This week, my sponsor Altra Zero Drop shoes launched a brand new clothing line. Footwear companies having their own running clothes follows the footsteps (excuse the pun), of other running companies like Nike, Adidas, etc., but–just as with Altra’s footwear–the new Altra apparel line has a big twist: it’s designed for ultra runners and outdoorsfolk obsessed with being as light, minimalist, and as on-the-go as possible.
I remember on my first thru-hike of the AT wishing that such a piece of gear existed. I heard from some other thru-hikers that Ray Jardine proposed such a design, but was never able to find any evidence of that. Altra’s design improves on my fantasy-windshirt though–you wear it in a pouch around your waist and then can pull the backless windshirt onto yourself without having to stop or remove your pack. Whether you’re ultramaronther, speed hiker, or just hiking through a climate that changes really quickly like the Colorado Rockies or the Sierras, it seems like the Stash Jack can solve an old backpacking problem. Best yet, the pricing is better than the popular with thru-hikers Patagonoia Houdini.
2.4 oz quick dry t-shirts
I’m impressed by the thought that has gone into designing the super light weight, super quick drying new Altra Performance Tee shirts. First, the zoned mesh fabric breathes really well and keeps you cool even when you’re, say, traversing the exposed Wasatch range in 90 degree weather.
Second, I haven’t found a hiking shirt with a good sleeve design since Patagonia discontinued the cap-shoulder sleeve. I prefer to hike in tank tops because I like the air flowing to my armpits–but I know especially as I get older, I need to have sun protection on my shoulders. The mesh sleeves on the Performance T’s breathes very well and are cut so my armpit can still get flow. Thank you!!!
Third, the fabric dries really quickly–like potentially faster that Patagonia Capilene quickly. This is helpful for if you get caught in a rain storm, or have been sweating in the heat and have to stop hiking (because a wet shirt will maintain evaporative cooling against your skin making you feel colder than just the outside temps). It’s also useful for when you want to wash your shirt on trail.
Fourth–the shirt has welded seams and hems meaning that the chances of weird rubbing or chaffing going on are seriously reduced. Many hikers found that they get chaffing around the area of their pack straps and salt and dirt rub against the seam to create a really painful shoulder. The welded seams could potentially fix this. My only concern is the durability of welded construction vs. sewn hems over the course of a long hike, since I haven’t seen many clothing companies do this. I didn’t notice problems when I wore the tank top on the 200 mile Seattle urban thru, though.
Lastly, these Altra shirts–unlike MANY other outdoor t-shirts for women–manage to fit well, look good, and aren’t dumpy. Call me vain, but I feel like I hike stronger when I look better. I really like the pink and green, but found the neon yellow to collect trail dirt quickly. That being said, I’m still glad that I had a neon yellow shirt for when I hiked the Wasatch Range–there were some roadwalking sections where being visible was really important (and I imagine if you’re a road-runner, you appreciate it, too).
The Performance Tank has the same awesome advantages of zoned mesh, super fast drying, and breathability as the Performance Tee. But–it has three sweet advantages over other performance tank tops out there. 1) Length—FINALLY–a tank top that won’t ride up with my pack on. I have a long torso and with this tank, I don’t have to worry about whether I’ll lose heat from an exposed hiker belly. When it’s super cold and I’m wearing it as a baselayer, I can tuck it in and it doesn’t pop out of my pants or skirt.
2) Weight—As an avowed ultralight backpacker, I thought I would NEVER say this–but if a shirt only weighs 1.95 oz, I can actually afford to carry an EXTRA SHIRT. When I backpack, I don’t even carry extra sleep clothes/town clothes because it weighs too much. I’m essentially a gross, dirty, mess. But, this shirt weighs as much as a pair of socks. That’s light enough that I would actually think about it.
3) Tummy hider–I usually start my thru-hikes heavier than I wish I was, as friends have pointed out about my starting terminus photos. The design on this tank is not form fitting around the midsection, which means that my hiker belly doesn’t show *quite* as much.
Altra also released performance bottoms including racing shorts and a performance skirt. I haven’t tried them yet (my butt wouldn’t fit into sample size) so can’t testify to their features–but they do weigh 3.6 and 2.6 oz, respectively!
As far as sizing goes, I’m 5 feet 7.5 inch and 145 pounds and fit the medium top and have been told by other ambassadors with similar dimensions that the medium is the way to go for bottoms, too.
The pricing errs definitely reflects an audience targeted at runners–that is, folks who have full time jobs who can afford to buy the best, lightest gear for their races that will make them run faster and perform better. We thru-hikers tend to not always have that kind of financial luxury and t-shirts and tank-tops are one spot where we can afford to skimp a little. But if you care about keeping every ounce in your pack as light as possible and can afford it, the only other apparel company I can think of making tops this light is Montbell.
I’ve always been able to live with being a little less happy in the off-season in the short term because I could tell myself “it’ll all be better soon. You’ll be hiking in 4 short months.”
I’m beginning to think that rather than postponing happiness until hiking season, I’d be better off learning how to take the joy of hiking and find it in real life.
I started reading a bunch of articles on being happier and realized that the “lessons” they were suggesting were really stuff I already knew from hiking. It turns out the lessons we learn on trail—that make us survive and thrive in the outdoors—can actually apply to being happier in “real” life, too. Here are a few of the lessons I’ve found on “happiness lists” that are also true for hiking:
We can’t change what happens to us. But we can change how we react to it. In hiking, we learn that we can’t change the weather. We can’t change wildfires. We can’t make that blister go away (well not immediately). But we can change how we react to them. If it rains, we can put on a rain jacket or heck, set up our shelter and spend the rest of the day playing MadLibs. If there’s a wildfire, we can figure out how to walk around it. We can tape up that blister and drain it, or (worst case scenario) take a few zeroes and get new shoes. It turns out that real life has “solutions” too. By changing my attitude to an “oh, I know how to make this better” way of thinking, a lot of the stuff that was making me angry suddenly became a lot easier to manage.
Don’t judge yourself for not sticking to the plan. We all make itineraries for our hikes. And ultimately, 99% of people don’t end up sticking exactly to every day they had planned for in that Excel spreadsheet. But it’s when we start feeling guilty—like we should have kept that to itinerary—that we get hard on ourselves. And when I’m hard on myself, not only do I get unhappy, but I get clumsy and start fumbling on everything. By making a plan, trying hard, and not feeling guilty if it doesn’t happen quite on my timeline, I will be a lot less stressed.
Find wonderful, beautiful things, wherever you are: I’m a big fan of finding little wonders everywhere, not just in big vistas. It’s one reason why I love urban hiking or the Appalachian Trail. No matter how bad my day is, I know there will always be something tiny that can cheer me up.
Make your own choices.Set your own goals.Check in on your progress often. You can hike the trail by getting up, walking, and camping wherever you end up (this is how I hiked my first thru). Or you can hike with an intention of making it to a particular lake. Or a goal of making it in town. The deliberate setting of goals is how I take control of my hiking day. It’s how I make sure that others hikers don’t hijack my hike when they want to camp early (unless I really want to keep hiking with them the next day). It’s a yardstick to measure my progress so far vs. where I want to go. In real life, it’s what will keep me on track instead of getting swept up in the newest work crisis.
Follow your circadian rhythms. On trail, we usually get up when the sun rises and go to sleep when the sun goes down. We always get plenty of sleep following that schedule. In the “real world,” we can get distracted with lights and TV. Getting enough sleep and waking up early is all about getting back to my trail roots.
Stop comparing myself vs. people around me. On trail more than anywhere, I’ve learned that just because someone may be faster than me today doesn’t mean I won’t beat them to Canada. It’s also taught me that it doesn’t matter who makes it to Canada first, it matters who makes it to Canada the happiest. In real life, just because someone may seem “better” than me at being skinny, or speaking eloquently, or having an fancy profession doesn’t mean that I’m not doing an awesome job at other things. I just have to remember to not get distracted from excelling at my own thing.
Eat enough and stay hydrated On trail, I know my body will bonk if I don’t eat enough or stay hydrated. Oh, if only I could remember that lesson during a busy day of report-writing for work! It sure would make me better at doing my job and also at being happier while doing it.
Find friendship everywhere. This one I’m good at on trail but bad at in “real life.” I’m pretty shy (hence the spending time in the woods solo thing), so striking up conversations with strangers just seems weird to me. But on trail, I’m looking for some social interaction and the barriers are broken. I’d like to be more like my trail self all the time and see everyone as a potential partner worth hiking hundreds of miles with.
Make time for friends. One of the reasons why trail friendships are so deep is because of the amount of time we have available to spend with each other. If I were to have a 1 hour coffee meeting with a friend every week for a year, that’s 52 hours of hanging out. If I were to hang out with a new friend on trail for 3 days straight, that’s 72 hours—more than I’ve spend with that coffee buddy. In “real life”, I don’t always have the kind of time to spend with folks, but if I can let myself be free of distractions, even when I’m off trail, I can make deep friendship a priority
Stay active, preferably outdoors: An obvious reason that hikers are so happy is that we’re exercising all day. All that movement get the blood going and increases endorphins in our brain, while also reducing the stress hormones. Being outdoors during our activity is like a super shot of happiness. Check out this awesome infographic on staying happy for more info: http://www.happify.com/hd/exercise-and-happiness-infographic/
Whatever gear you choose should be suited to how you plan to spend your time outdoors. Gear guru Glen Van Peski talks of the Camping-Hiking Spectrum.
So ask yourself: What does a day on trail look like to you?
If you plan to hike a few miles, sit by a lake, fish, play guitar, hang out, and cook over a campfire, then you are on the camping side of the spectrum (aka Camping-Backpacking Extreme). You’re going to want gear that will make you comfortable where you are spending most of your time: in camp. This includes a nice camp chair, big puffy jackets to keep you warm while you aren’t moving, good cookware, a fishing pole, a guitar, and maybe even a plastic portable sink to make camp dishes easier to clean. Sure, it may be a bit unwieldy to carry all that stuff, but you’re only walking a few hours a day, right?
The Camping-Backpacking extreme end of the spectrum will still have you carrying lighter gear than if you packed up all your car camping stuff. But, it’s goal should be to still provide you with many of the luxuries that you would expect from car camping (a lightweight French Press comes to mind). If you’re Camping-Backpacking, you’re still going to have to do without some things (e.g., the Coleman propane two-burner stove and the easy access to your cooler of beer). Camping-Backpacking is what most people think about when they think “backpacking,” which is one reason why people think of backpacking as, well, back breaking work. But it is a system that is suited to an end goal: hanging out a little ways away from civilization, hopefully, in a pretty place.
The other end of the extreme is the Hike-All-Day-Extreme category. If you plan to get up, hike all day with few breaks, throw your sleeping bag down, drink some Soylent insta-food, and pass out, then you are on the other far end of the hiking spectrum. You’re going to want gear that will make you comfortable where you are spending most of your time: walking on trail. This is gear that will make walking all day easier—a light pack, comfy shoes, hiking poles, maybe an umbrella to block out the sun and rain. Sure, you may be cold hanging around in camp, but you’re probably in your sleeping bag almost immediately after you stop walking, right?
Most thru-hikers fall close to the end of the hiking spectrum. Most Pacific Crest Trail hikers and especially Continental Divide Trail hikers find that they need to be walking most of the day, most of the days that they are outdoors, in order to obtain their goal before the weather window closes (aka, it starts snowing and they can’t really keep traveling in the mountains safely).
But there are other thru-hikes–especially shorter thru-hikes–that don’t require backpackers to be on the extreme end of the spectrum (the hike-all-day-hiker). The Camino de Santiago pilgrimage is probably the most obvious, but the Tahoe Rim Trail, or even the John Muir Trail are frequently backpacked more on the camping spectrum.
You most definitely don’t have to be a thru-hiker to be on the hike-all-day end of the spectrum, either. Glen Van Peski takes his ultralight system out backpacking for long weekend trips where the goal is exploration and seeing as many things as possible.
To tailor gear for your trip, find out where you fit on the camping-hiking spectrum, and choose your gear accordingly. Where you fit will depend on your goals, the terrain of the trip, weather/climate, the size of the party, and your experience level.
Backpacking stops being fun and people start complaining about their gear when they don’t have the right gear for their type of trip. By finding where you fit on the spectrum (and of course, but knowing how to use your gear and using it correctly in the right situations) you can maximize happiness on whatever trip you take.
I eat an insane amount of veggies when I’m at home (i.e., not hiking or letting other hikers’ influence my eating preferences).
So I’m always looking to squeeze more vegetables and fruits into my backpacking diet. Unfortunately, since fresh veggies are heavy and bulky, this isn’t always the most efficient option.
This article is dedicated to ways I’ve found to tackle the age old problem of getting veggies in a thru-hiking diet.
Before I dive into the issue, here is a little about my cooking style, which is on the lazier end of the spectrum (which makes getting veggies into my diet even harder): When I backpack, I only use the freezer bag method to make “cooked” meals. This means that I add boiling water (or near boiling water) to a melt-proof bag full of food, wait typically 15 minutes, and then expect my meal to be totally edible.
Dehydrated Dried Veggies (Home made or store bought)
For my first thru-hike of the AT, I bought the End of the World supply of veggies from Harmony House. What I didn’t know then and know now is that those veggies need to be cooked. It may only be a minute, or it may be more like 10 minutes—but either way, that’s a lot more fuel than I usually take on a trip. This was especially true for peas and corn.
The dehydrated method seems to work best for certain vegetables. I’ve had the best luck with ones I can dehydrate myself with ease. I’ve written extensively about my dehydrated kale process. I’ve had a lot of luck with shredded zucchini as well (it’s amazing how a foot long zucchini becomes so tiny after it has been shredded and dehydrated). Both these veggies rehydrate well with the freezer bag method—just add a little extra hot water, and you’re done.
Freeze dried Veggies
I’ve had the best luck with rehydrating freeze-dried veggies. These pop back to life with hot water, which is why even cheapskates like Cup A Noodles throw in a few freeze dried dehydrated peas to your 0.25 cent noodle dish.
If I went bag of freeze dried veggies route, I’ll send that unopened in my resupply boxes and each night, use that bag of veggies to top off whatever I’m having for dinner. It works with ramen, instant mashed potatoes, or freeze dried dinners. Then, when I’m on trail, I can decide how many freeze dried veggies to add to each dinner depending on how much water I have, how hungry I am, etc.
If I go the big can route, I’ll either make a bunch of quart sized bags of just veggies, or I’ll add some spoonfuls of veggies to each unpackaged dinner I’ll be eating (say, if I got a big bag of rice noodles and split them into many smaller bags).
Technically, you’re supposed to eat your freeze dried veggies within a week of opening their packaging, but I’ve had freeze dried veggie pieces last at least a year in a ziplock freezer bag.
Veggie “Chip-Like” Snacks
Some natural food stores, like Sprouts, sell salted veggie chip mixes in their bulk section. They include beets, carrots, green beans, sometimes ocra…and you can also get the veggies separately. The closest thing I can find on the internet is this, but you can usually find them for about $7/lb, and you get A LOT of veggies for $7 (remember they have no water, so you’d be getting 7 lbs of veggies for that price of they were rehydrated).
Before my PCT hike, I got dried veggie chips at Sprouts and was obsessed…for a week, until I got to the point where I couldn’t eat them anymore. I loved the idea of having the salty-crunchy food that hikers love be something actually healthy instead of Pringles. I still love the idea. It’s funny how your tastebuds change on trail, though. I have no idea why that didn’t work out, and will probably buy some more before my next hike (but in smaller quantities).
Trips where I’ve been more sparing in my purchasing amounts did show me that they rehydrate decently when soaked in water or hot water and can add some bulk to a dinner.
*New discovery* Trader Joe’s Broccoli
Essentially, dehydrated broccoli, these veggies can be eaten like chips during snacktime and can also be used to top off a backpacking dinner with something green.
The snack is surprisingly filling—especially if consumed with water. My one compliant is that is could be saltier.
After you’re finished the snack, there is a fair share of “broccoli dust” at the bottom—about ¼ to 1/3 of a cup by my measurement.
I added ¼ cup boiling water to the dust and got almost ½ cup of rehydrated broccoli—an excellent addition to ramen, instant mashed potatoes, or a traditional freeze dried meal.
A similar technique can be used with Snap Peas. The only downside with the broccoli is that it’s made with palm oil.
The downside is that these powders tend to be on the pricier side. I’ve been able to find the holiday flavors on steep discount–but only in brick and mortar stores.
While the packaging says that it needs to be refrigerated before opening, I’ve broken up a few jars of powdered greens into ziplocks and put one in each resupply box. Perhaps some of their nutrition had degraded, but they seemed totally fine when they arrived at my trail town stop up to 6 months later.
Bringing fresh veggies on your trip—but being selective
If temps are cooler, spinach can pack a lot of greens in your meal without weighing you down too much. A pound of spinach, afterall, is not dense at all—it could almost fill up the whole capacity of the MLD Burn 😉
That being said, spinach is a great veggie for that first night out of town and maybe the next day—not very an extended period. Unless temps are quite cool, your spinach will wilt and start to spoil—especially if you’re at all squishing or compressing it in your pack.
Better options are heartier veggies like brcooli, cauliflower, carrots, onions, garlic, and squash.
Anecdotally, I’ve heard from other hikers and experienced myself that organic veggies tend to last longer without refrigeration than conventional veggies. I have no idea why.
Considering that you may not have a chance to wash up your veggies easily while on the trail, you may consider washing off dirt before you leave town. That’s another reason to perhaps opt for organic—you don’t have to worry as much about washing off traditional pesticides.
Even if you aren’t inclined to carry veggies, I’ve heard of hikers carrying a few garlic cloves or a shallot to spice up their meals. In both cases, the real thing is so much more potent than dehydrated, that it can give a kick to your food for minimal weight penalty. And it can help keep the mosquitoes away, or at least the vampires.
What have I missed? Leave your ideas for other ways to get veggies into your trail diet in the comments section.
Recently, I’ve been working with a few first time backpackers in my Thru-Hiking 101 Online course. While they have a lot of hiking experience, transitioning to backpacking is providing some challenges—especially since it is winter right now, and they also don’t have a lot of time.
I developed the idea of a “Mock Overnighter” to help these students feel like they have almost all the experience of an overnight backpacking trip, while still being able to make it home to their kids for dinner. These MicroAdventures can be done super local, close to home, and without a lot of planning or fanfare.
To do a Mock Overnighter, pack up all your gear in your backpack—just as if you were headed on an overnight or multi-day trip. Drive out to your trailhead (it can even be a big park if you live far away from trails). Hike a few miles and find a spot you think would make a good mock campsite.
Set up your shelter—including sleeping bag and sleeping pad—just like you would in camp. Then pull out your stove (if local regulations allow it) and cook yourself up a meal.
If you have time, get in a nap in your tent. Otherwise, get in your tent and do some reading or do a crossword puzzle.
The process of setting up your shelter will not only get you familiar with how that is done, but make it so you are faster at setting it up. By taking a nap or hanging out in your shelter, you’ll become aware of where your shelter may sag, whether your set up is comfortable, and how you can set up your shelter to breathe better. Cooking lunch on your stove will get you familiar with not only operating your stove, but also what kinds of food are cookable on a camp stove.
Walking a mile or two with your pack will be enough time to reveal some major discomforts in either your back or the way you packed it. That way, next time you do a Mock Overnighter, you can pack your backpack differently until you find a set up you like.
Mock Overnighters can be great for trail veterans, too. It’ll keep you fresh on how to set up your shelter and also give you an excuse to inspect your gear before you go on bigger trips and make sure it’s still in good shape and has all its operating parts (e.g. guylines, toggles, buckles, etc.).
The best part of the Mock Overnighter is you’re also getting in physical training. Just hitting the trail or walking for an hour with your full-pack is a great way to transition into or transition back into longer days with a big pack.
Since it’s winter right now, only the bravest want to venture into overnighters. But a mock overnighter lets you test out and practice in low commitment, non-scary terms.
It’s the time of year when the outdoor industry showcases their newest innovations in gear and give retailers a chance to see (and buy) what is getting rolled out in 2017. In 2015, I wrote about gear I saw at Winter Outdoor Retailer that is just hitting the markets now. The Outdoor Retailer Trade Show in Salt Lake City is attracts between 20,000 and 40,000 people involved in the outdoor industry. But it’s a closed show–so you can’t get in unless you’re buying or selling gear, are assigned a story from a major news outlet, or come in with a 501c3 non-profit.
Winter 2016 saw big innovations with gear that allows you to walk On Ice, Flameless stoves, Oatless Oatmeal, New Altra Lone Peaks, and Yak Wool Baselayers. I’ll be writing more about trends in the show (including fashion trends, booth babes, the happy hour scene, and attendance) in my next write-up. For now–this is for you, gearheads!
Best of Show: Vibram Arctic Grip
No joke. You can walk on ice with the new Vibram Arctic grip rubber. In the photos and video above, Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa and I are wearing one shoe with a normal Vibram sole, and one with an Arctic Grip sole.
The normal sole slips and slides on ice. The Arctic grip actually allows you to walk. It’s a Winter OR Miracle and among the most innovative technologies I’ve seen at OR in years. This could have a HUGE impact on the backpacking industry…if only we are willing to wait.
Timberland won the bid for exclusive use of the Vibram Arctic Grip until 2017. Here’s to patiently waiting for when Altra, Brooks, or other companies that thru-hikers typically wear can start sole-ing up their shoes with it.
Sneak Peak at the Altra Lone Peak 3.0 and Altra Lone Peak Mid
This is a great year for Altra to be rolling out a mid-ankle height shoe. With the snow levels in the Cascades, Sierras, and Rockies slowly approaching 2011 levels, hikers are going to want their same beloved thru-hiking shoe, just more of it. Soon, many hikers’ favorite shoe model, the Lone Peak, will be available in mid height. It should be available in Neoshell (“Better Than Waterproof”—check out my review here), but may also be available in normal breathable mesh for the hikers out there who prefer a mid even when not hiking in snow.
The Neoshell Lone Peak is getting a make over. I got a sneak peak at the new women’s shoe, looking a lot more stylish than the old model and available in new colors.
The Lone Peak 3.0 and Olympus 3.0 are coming out in new colors and have a sleeker look that (sacrilegiously) reminds me of the old Brooks Cascadia design. I’m excited to be styling in these new sportier looks on the trail this summer.
GU has a Honey Stinger-like Waffle
GU, the original energy gel company, is coming out with solid food. Tried it on a hike up Mt. Diablo last week. Side by side with a Honey Stinger waffle, my GU waffle (Mocha flavored) looks and seems the exactly the same as a Honey Stinger waffle. The only difference as far as I can tell it is slightly sweeter (the ingredients weren’t on the top secret packaging they gave me), a little goo-eyer (no pun intended), and less cardboardy. But the differences are so minor (perhaps having to do more with flavor differences) that I would be surprised if they make them out of the same factory. The big difference for consumers will be the price point. It releases this Spring.
One Giant GU to Rule Them All
GU finally got the idea to make a Thru-Hiker Size packet of energy gel! Each packet holds the equivalent of 15 gels and is resealable and doesn’t require refrigeration (in fact, I was told it would last opened and resealed for 6 months). This makes it the perfect way for a thru-hiker to consume GU’s—not those silly little packets that don’t deliver nearly enough calories and create a lot of sticky trash you have to pack out. Now, insert spout into mouth and get your 1,500 calories in one squirt.
They’re also rolling out these smaller refillable tubes. Normal people will be able to squirt a GU or two’s worth of gel from their big reservoir into the tube. I’m planning on filling mine with cream cheese.
Wildway Grain Free Hot Cereal and Granola debuted at Winter OR offering an oatless oatmeal. We’re talking a paleo-friendly oatmeal alternative that is grain free. I tried some and it was coconut, nutty, and seemed like it would be really filling and stick to your bones while backpacking. I loved the flavor. As companies are increasingly rolling out heartier breakfast porridges for backpacking and gluten free backpackers are more common that ever, it’s great timing to be releasing this kind of product.
Unfortunately, their website doesn’t appear to have cooking instructions (Can I just add hot water? How about cold water and soak?) or ingredient lists. I have an email into them to find out more about this cool new product.
Honey Stinger has GLUTEN free waffles
I tried this side by side with the Honey Stinger waffle on a hike, and actually prefer the gluten free! (?!???) The gluten free comes in this delicious Organic Maple flavor that may have had something do to with it (I’m a maple fanatic), but the Gluten Free option was AWESOME. Best yet, it was less crumbly, easier to break off, and easier to chew than the usual glutinous waffle. Although a traditional Wheat Honey Stinger waffle and the Gluten free both weigh 1 oz according to the package, the Gluten free one feels lighter—in fact, it is 140 calories vs. the traditional waffle’s 160 calories. It also has 6g of fat vs. the 7g in a traditional waffle and 10g of sugar vs. the traditional waffle’s 14 g. Either way, at the end of my hike, one of the waffles was downed a lot quicker than the other. And it wasn’t the one I expected.
I was seriously left wishing I had taken more samples from the Honey Stinger booth.
Sprouted *Watermelon* Seeds????
When I first saw GoRaw’s sprouted watermelon seeds, I was skeptical. I thought this was a new craze that’s actually a way to take a non-edible food and turn it into a fad. But I tried de-shelled, sprouted, and salted watermelon seeds, and they’re actually really good—like better than sunflower seed or pumpkin seed good. They’re nutty, and moist, and fresh tasting. GoRaw debuted at Outdoor Retailer Winter 2016, and came armedwith new packaging for a more outdoorsy market (it wasn’t until I looked on Amazon and saw their old packaging that I realized I’ve seen this company before in hippie natural food stores).
What intrigued me about this system for ultralight hikers is that the heat pouch weighs 0.5 oz—pretty comparable to other ultralight fuel systems like Esbit. Each heat pouch lasts 20 minutes on the smaller models, and up to an hour on the larger models—meaning that you get a lot more hot water (it seems like multi-person ability) than you would out of comparable fuels of the same weight. On top of that (I’d need to check with the folks at Leave No Trace first) but the company claims that the fuel byproduct is calcium carbonate, so can be buried and left behind without packing out (they also said the pouch’s paper could be left in nature, which I highly disagree with.)
So, essentially, if this flameless system were modified to not require the heavy stock tumbler or pot, you’d be operating a flameless system with little weight penalty. Now, I’m not sure if you could get the system to work without their stock equipment (which is better suited for campers and hunters than backpackers), but if you could, this could be a pretty revolutionary new cooking system for backpackers. I’m keeping my eyes peeled to see how this product will evolve over time.
Their flameless cooking system, which debuted at Summer 2015, has you put a heating pouch (essentially, your fuel) inside of a mylar bag along with a small amount of liquid. Then you put a pouch of their meals (Fully cooked, MRE or Tasty Bite style) into the mylar bag, close the mylar bag, and let the meal cook itself.
It’s a similar system to the Hydroheat set up, except that it doesn’t require the heavy cookware. Everything is self-contained in your backpacking food pouch. You just choose whatever flavor you want and it includes the heating system inside. No stove or cookware necessary. The downside is that it is designed to work with their food, which comes in packets fully hydrated.
The sales lady told me point-blank that it isn’t designed for thru-hikers and is too heavy. But I beg to disagree.
Why? Because she also told me that instead of using water to activate the heat pouch, you can use PEE! This could be a desert alternative set up. If you think you’re going to run out of water but still want hot food and want to have a flameless stove, this could be what you take. I can see some PCT hikers opting for this system.
In fact, I kind of wish I had a system like this for my last month southbounding the CDT in New Mexico in November. It was so cold at night, I definitely wanted hot food, but water was scarce as the springs had dried up. The heavier food would’ve been a disadvantage, but knowing that regardless of whether I found that spring, I could still have a hot meal, might have been a real comfort.
I never got a chance to ask their competitor across the row if pee can activate their heating system (which boils water for your own dehydrated food instead of requiring their dehydrated food). But if you could add pee, that also adds some potentially real game changing options to the desert hiking set up.
NUUN Energy and a Sad Update From NUUN
Nuun Energy is the same electrolyte fizzy tabs that we love…but with more caffeine. Winter OR saw the debut of a new mango flavor.
Also—some sad news for NUUN lovers: I learned at Winter OR that my favorite NUUN flavor, Kona Cola (you know, the Alka Seltzer tabs that make your backcountry water taste like a Coke) are GETTING DISCONTINUED! Stock up now, and be sure to write NUUN and tell them not to discontinue their best flavor!
Never Tie Your Shoes Again
Hate tying your shoes? Do your shoes always seem to become untied? Zubuts offers a magnetic shoe closure system that is attachable and reusable with any shoe. I tried them out and they don’t fall apart when walking or pretty much anytime except when you want them to. Because they’re metal magnets and lace into your shoes, you won’t lose them and they won’t break (unlike other non-lacing closure systems like BOAs) That being said, they weigh in at 1 oz at the pair, so for those of us trying to keep extra weight off our feet, Zubits may still be too heavy.
New European Down-Like Synthetic Fill
European company Save the Duck premiered at Outdoor Retailer Winter 2016 with a new kind of proprietary synthetic lofting system. The material seems very soft and puffy, unlike the usual plasticky feel of synthetic-fills. It’s won all sorts of awards in Europe (including from PETA), but is just rolling out its line of mostly fashion-oriented clothing in the US. While the stuff looks heavy to wear backpacking, there’s a huge potential for a softer, puffy synthetic to do cool things for the outdoor industry. I’m staying tuned to see if Save the Duck won’t lease out its technology to other companies who can apply it in lighter weight gear scenarios.
Yaks live at lower elevations than merino sheep, which could provide the market in a lighter wool that breathes better. Kora, a Yakwool baselayer company, premiered at Outdoor Retailer 2016, with a series of designs. I can’t tell if it’s a gimmick or not, and couldn’t get much more info out of the sales lady, who was a booth babe, instead of a designer or person knowledgeable about the product.
A little research shows that this first-ever baselayer made of Yakwool appears to at least be as good as merino wool. TGO does a nice review of it here.
Wheat, Dairy, and Egg Free Energy Cookies
Those looking for a wheat free, dairy free, egg free cookie need look no further. These cookies taste similar to bars, but there is something very comforting about the circular shape. Designed for long distance cyclists, the Kakookies are about 230 calories and have a 6 month shelf life. As someone always on the look out for a new backpacking food, this was a fun find.
Better Hiking Underwear
Ex-Officio, long time maker of the
especially their smell and lack of style, but I never seem to replace them because there isn’t much better out there. Now, Ex-Officio has upgraded their design and switched to a softer fabric, the Sport Mesh. I haven’t tested them yet, so can’t testify to the smell or performing properties, but they sure look a lot nicer and feel a lot nicer than the old model. Available in men’s and women’s models.
Resizing Compete Energy Bites
Those who attended the ALDHA-W Gathering 2015 may remember a certain chocolate flavored Energy Chew that delivers a big caffeinated punch (Compete Energy Bites was a big sponsor of the event…leading to high energy event). Realizing that a 6 pack of Energy Bites is a lot to chew (lol), they’ve resized their bites into manageable two packs, making it way easier for people to grab and go with. The flavor profile has been changed with a chocolate-y flavor. And of course, the packaging has been updated from the 1980s.
Ultra Runner U-Go Bars
Although they didn’t have a booth, I stumbled across the owner of UGo Bars, a new hand-crafted, vegan, non-GMO, gluten free bar. On the outside, they look a lot like Lara Bars, but actually have a much better flavor and feel…fresher and nuttier.
Although Outdoor Retailer 2016 seemed to drag on forever and have a low attendance, after doing this write-up, I realize I’ve seen a lot of innovative things that could potentially change the market for good.
New Flavors of Good to Go
The new kid on the dehydrated backpacking food block, Good to Go offers 4 star chef quality meals in the backcountry. I wrote a review of their meals here over a backpacking trip to the Sand Dunes, and am stoked about the new flavors. (Good to Go’s booth was conveniently located across the aisle from a CDTC happy hour, and I must have eaten at least 10 of their samples—Chef Jennifer even remembered my face and told me to stay way from the peanut-y ones!).
The new flavors are an Indian Vegetable Korma and a Pad Thai. The Pad Thai, unfortunately, has peanuts, but maybe they’ll decide to keep the peanut packet separate and then I will chow down. Good to Go partners with Jetboil and because of their dehydration process, it takes a little bit longer to rehydrate their foods using the soak method, especially at altitude.
Stay tuned for an OR follow-up piece!
It was a great OR full of lots of non-gear events, including huge donations to trail organizations, multiple happy hours celebrating the new accomplishments of hikers, and big trend changes in the industry. Thanks for reading and please leave any thoughts in the comments section.
I’ve been a little nervous about how it’s all going to turn out. There’s other free material on the Internet. Was my little course going to actually be able to show it all up?
Now that I’ve seen the first class, I am absolutely BLOWN away by AWESOME it turned out! Like seriously–I felt like *I* learned a bunch of new stuff—and I wrote most of it! How well it turned out FAR exceeded expectations–and I had pretty high expectations of what this would look like. I’m impressed and really honored to have worked on such a project.
Backpacker Magazine did such a great job of integrating my content with that of experts in topics I don’t know so much about (like, say, all the financial planners they talked to about saving $ for a hike). And the photos and quizzes just made everything *pop* and engage in a way I don’t see in any sort of not-in person resource on thru-hiking.
At this point, I feel like I should be tired of looking at the content for the class, but Week’s 1 class was organized so well and flows so well it was actually really fun to take–even for me. Everything seemed broken down into really digestably chunks–somehow they turned all my lengthy 17 page monologues into exactly what I wanted to say, except way clearer (thanks, editors!).
I also love how well they integrated my content with that of so many other hikers who helped me. One of the most important facets of teaching this class for me was that it never comes across as pedantic. I believe that other than not being a d-bag and practicing LNT, thru-hiking has no rules. In the words of my friend Shane, “I may know thru-hiking well, but you know you well.” This course was designed to give tools to prospective hikers to make decisions best suited for them and I’m so thankful to all the other hikers who helped share their perspectives so that students of the trail can figure out what works best for them (even if it isn’t what works best for me!)
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started” Mark Twain
Maps. Gear. Food. Planning for a thru-hike can involve so much stuff and data, it can seem downright daunting.
Before I started my first thru-hike, I obsessed the Pacific Crest Trail, but was scared to actually take the first step to make a thru-hike happen. Friends knew of my dream and would urge me to pursue it, but I kept letting fear and the amount of work involved keep me from doing anything about it. I found excuses to avoid even starting to plan. I didn’t even know if I could find the time and money, so why waste that time dreaming?
Then, in January of 2008, I took the plunge and went in head first. I didn’t know what I was doing, but all I can say is that that decision is among the best things I’ve ever done.
Planning and prep for a thru-hike will look different from person to person. We have different goals, different dreams, different timelines. And no matter how much prep we do, Mother Nature always throws something unexpected at us. But the truth is, regardless of who we are or how we want to hike, our experience in the outdoors is safer and more enjoyable when we take initiative and do some old fashioned planning.
Here are some tips to beat inertia and indecision and to hop on the planning train.
Commit to hike, even if you aren’t 100% sure you can make it happen I can tell there’s a difference between the trails that I’ve planned a year out vs. hikes I cobbled together 2 weeks in advance. The further out I can commit to a trail (even if it’s a slow start), the better off I am physically and mentally when I do hit the trail. Committing to my hike early also allows gives me the time to address my demands at home (work, my stuff, bills, etc.) and to make sure years in advance that the family vacation won’t be scheduled in the middle of my hike.
If you’re not sure you can actually hike (find time and money), research how others have made it happen. People from all walks of life have thru-hiked. All ages, all backgrounds, all sorts of professions. Finding the time and money to do a trip sometimes requires some creativity, but if you want it enough, it can be done! Work with a financial planner and talk to other hikers who are similar positions of you to get ideas and inspiration.
Decide to start planning early….say, now. If you’ve ever thought about thru-hiking, the more time you give yourself to mentally be in the “I’m going on a thru-hike space” the better prepared you will be when that day actually happens. If you’re planning on hiking this summer, in 2017, or after you retire in 5 years, setting your goal now and moving on it is a great way to make sure it happens.
Stop worrying that prep and planning will take away from the adventure. No matter how much prep and planning you do, the outdoors is always giving us surprises, always giving us gifts, and promises to keep us on our toes. On a long hike in remote country, you’ve got a smaller margin of error than you do at home. Planning and prep isn’t about forming expectations. It’s about being willing to take whatever Mother Nature gives us and have the knowledge and skills to know what to do with it.
Don’t buy your gear yet. The temptation to go out and buy the first great deal that you see at the outfitter is great. “Who cares how it works? I’ll figure it out after I take it home!” I’ve declared far too often. But for many hikers, gear is the biggest expense of a thru-hike, so it’s worth doing some research—a lot of research—before handing over your hard earned cash.
Find a mentor. First-time thru-hikers who learn from thru-hiking mentors not only get the information to hike, but also get personal support that a book or listserve doesn’t offer. A good mentor will live by the motto “there are no stupid questions.” Avoid online forums, listserves, and facebook groups with trolls that prey on newbies. Instead, look for mentors who are willing to take the time to “tailor” answers specifically to you and who are willing to invest the time to learn about you to help you come to decisions that fit your goals and values.
Know How to Choose the Information You Use. There is a lot of info on mountaineering, survivalism, and “the right thing to do in the outdoors” out there. But just like if you’re planning to bake a cake, a cooking class will only be so useful, if you’re planning to thru-hike, a survivalism book will also be of limited use. A lot of hikers I meet get caught up in learning skills and strategies that tend to not be useful for most 3-season thru-hikers, like learning to kill and skin squirrels or build ice caves. These people would have better spent their time learning to develop a lighter gear system or plan out their resupplies—skills better suited to long distance backpackers.
Carve out time each week to plan for your trip. Even if it’s only an hour each week, this is your time to re-commit to your goal, familiarize yourself with your trail, and prepare yourself for the challenges of a hike. Whether this time is spent taking a class, watching a hiking movie, reading a book, or going over your dream gear list, regularly making trip planning a part of your habitual routine will make sure your dream can’t slip away.
Break planning into chunks. Planning, research, and prep can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to do everything all at once. For example, a friend of mine committed to spend one month just on finding the best sleeping bag for his trip and saving up for it. You can do something similar by spending one week (or one month if your trip is a few years out) just researching something as silly as salty snack foods. The more time you have before your trip, the more easily you can break up your research and prepping needs and make the process fun. Plus, staying engaged throughout the planning process can help you get even more psyched about your trip.
If you have always dreamed of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, John Muir Trail, Camino de Santiago, or any other trail, on January 12th, I will be launching (with BACKPACKER Magazine) a 6-week online course called Thru-Hiking 101 with videos, worksheets, interviews, webinars, gearlists, physical fitness training calendars, and community. It’s an easy to digest, unintimidating guide to help you plan for your first thru-hike and make your dream of outdoor adventure come true. Sign up today
If you or a friend has ever wanted to go on a long backpacking trip, but weren’t sure where to start, Thru-Hiking 101 with Backpacker Magazine is easily accessible, approachable, and unintimidating the holiday present you need to set yourself up for success.
This Fall, I was approached by Backpacker Magazine to develop their first ever online course, a 6-week course called Thru-Hiking 101 starting January 12th. I’ve been teaching one-on-one and small group clinics on long distance backpacking for years, but have always felt like unless a prospective hiker can make it out to an in-person session, that the resources to get started have been limited, inaccessible, not approachable, or boring. While the best way to learn thru-hiking is just to get out and hike, many people (myself included) learn best from a class—especially if there is an instructor who can help answer my questions along the way.
So why should you take this course or recommend it to a friend?
Everything You’d Find in An In-Person Session, Except Online: The Rucks (Beginner Thru-Hiker Courses) that I put on with the American Long Distance Hiking Association-West have been a great intro course for beginner backpackers—but if you live thousands of miles away from Portland, OR, Coeur d’Alene, ID or Golden, CO, your best resource is the Internet. With this Thru-Hiking 101 Online class, you can get in-person attention (in fact, it goes into more detail than the Rucks), from the comforts of your home. Much cheaper than a plane ticket across the country.
Well Portioned Classes: I’m exhausted after teaching a one-day beginner backpacking course, and I know that for beginner backpackers, learning everything you need to know about a thru-hike in 8 hours is like drinking from a fire hose. Thru-hiking 101 is a 6 week course with activities, webinars, and question sessions built into it, so that you have enough time to process the material.
Perfect Timing for Training and Prep: The class launches January 12th, which means even if you are leaving to start the Appalachian Trail on March 1st, (assuming you follow our timeline) you’ll be able to put together an itinerary, resupply plan, fitness training, gear plan, etc. all before you leave for your trip. It’s designed as a crash course for those leaving for their trip soon, or for long term planning for those with several years before their hike.
Wealth of Experience and Perspectives: The course is designed around what I’ve learned from 16 thru-hikes, and also includes the voices and perspectives of about a dozen other accomplished thru-hikers from different backgrounds, ages, and fitness levels.
I have total control over the content: within the hiking community, there has been a full range of passionate emotions about BP. One condition I had for putting together this course is veto power on everything.
Well Designed and Presented: The process of putting together the class has been me spitting out info and editors at Backpacker making it sound prettier, snappier, and hipper and adding photos that weren’t taken with my phone.
No gear ads/weird product placement: All the products in the video are things I actually use. The business model is 100% tuition based—so you’re not going to see an oddly out of place 7 pound pack and 10 pound tent anywhere in this class.
Approachable: Let’s just say they chose the promo photo of me with a double chin for a reason 😉 There are a lot of accomplished people in the hiking world, but I’d like to believe that there is a reason why they chose me. I didn’t start doing outdoorsy stuff until I was an adult, so I can articulate the process of starting from scratch well because it wasn’t that long ago that I started from zero. The class also includes the perspectives of hikers of all ages, backgrounds, speeds, goals, and physical abilities. So even if I seem intimidating (which is hard for me to imagine ;)), the course includes the entire spectrum of thru-hikers, from people who have done one short thru-hike to Triple Crowners.
Personal Attention: Over the 6 weeks of the course, you’ll be able to ask me questions on the material, as well as get personal fitness attention from our personal trainer, and get live-time questions answered in Webinars. Essentially, you’re going to get a personal coach for 6 weeks to guide you through, step-by-step, the process of planning and prepping for a hike.
Sporkables is a new dehydrated food company founded by a professional chef/ mom of an AT hiker. She created Sporkables to be “Home Cooking for Hungry Hikers”—nutritious, lightweight foods, that don’t take a lot of water to dehydrate. One huge advantage of Sporkables is that because it was founded by a mom of a hiker, she actually knows how to ship maildrops to your resupply points. She ships directly to your location on trail by going off of where you will be in 7-10 days.
Sporkables offers creative flavors and dishes that you don’t see in the mainstream backpacking food companies. I was particularly curious about the Ratatouille and Riboletta (I don’t even know what that is!). Their dishes are pretty reasonably priced and come in foil packets of single serving meals.
Three experienced thru-hiker friends and I took Sporkables on a very late season thru-hike of the Timberline Trail around Mt. Hood.
I tried the All Sauced Up during a lunch break on the first day. Although the packet felt pretty small (single serving), I was pretty shocked to find out afterwards that it is 682 calories for the 3 oz packet! It definitely tasted like homemade sauce, with a lot of love and care put into it. Unlike a lot of backpacking foods, it only called for 1 cup of water—which was great, because we were running low. The weight to calorie ratio and the low water requirement were really what made it a perfect meal for that trip.
Although the instructions suggest dumping the food in your pot, bringing it to a boil, and cooking for 1 minute, I always use the freezer bag/soaking method to prepare my meals. I just dumped the hot water in foil bag it came in and let it set for 15 minutes (the instructions say 20 minutes—I was too hungry to wait). The noodles were a little firm—but it was cold outside and we were at 6,000 feet in October, so maybe I should have waited longer 😛
The next day, I tried the Ratatouille during a wet lunch break under the trees after a really exposed snow storm. Maybe I was just really hungry and in need of a cold meal then, but it was honestly one of the best things I’ve ever had on trail. Sporkables uses a lot of vegetables in their food and as a veggie junkie, I really appreciated this big bag of essentially vegetables. At 3 oz and 380 calories, it’s not quite as weight efficient as the other dish, but I didn’t care. I wished my Ratatouille at home could turn out like that.
Sporkables is still a small company getting it’s feet off the ground but it will be interesting seeing where they go with the product. I’m always excited by the increasing number of food options on the trail for those who are willing to look beyond ramen.