Your browser (Internet Explorer 7 or lower) is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how to update your browser.

X

From the Altra Blog: Altras Aren’t Just for Runners

Bobcat and I rocking the Altra Lone Peaks on the Wonderland Trail. Also with Malto. Photo by Cam “Swami” Honan from <a title="New Trends in Backpacking Food: Outdoor Retailer Sneak Peeks at What To Eat" href="www.thehikinglife.com">the Hiking Life</a>.
Bobcat and I rocking the Altra Lone Peaks on the Wonderland Trail. Also with Malto. Photo by Cam “Swami” Honan from the Hiking Life.

In the not so distant past, life was not so straight forward for hikers. There were no apps to use as maps/guidebooks on the trails. And plantar fasciitis/fasciotis was just a normal part of walking a long trail.

Meanwhile, a world away, some guys who worked in a running shop had an idea. It seemed like a lot of the folks who came into their store looking to correct foot pain were helped by a few simple solutions like sizing the shoe up a few sizes and wearing laces looser.

Back in their own separate world, hikers with foot problems were coming to similar conclusions as they stumbled their way north or south on a long trail, occasionally hobbling into small-town gear stores with their own set of foot problems. I consistently would buy shoes several sizes larger than my feet—often having to get men’s shoes—in order to feel like my toes had enough room to stabilize my foot. Sometimes, I would straight up give-up on shoes and walk barefoot for a bit to get out of some trail running clunkers.

One day, those guys in the running shop designed a shoe. They used their knowledge of running, what they’d seen help injured people in their store, and advanced degrees in foot bio-mechanics and biology to pattern a shoe after how people actually run. That shoe was called Altra Zero Drop.

I was lucky to be one of the first hikers to try the shoe out and thought, “Hey, my feet don’t hurt anymore.”

As someone who has never run a marathon, I get a little intimidated by ads that show people with race bibs and medals. For me, being on my feet has never been about that. But It turns out those runners know more than a thing or two about how feet work. That’s why I crafted this piece about how long distance hikers have done awesome things in the Altra Lone Peaks. Check it out: http://blog.altrazerodrop.com/zero-drop/altras-arent-just-for-runners/

Trends in the Outdoor Industry 2015

The last in the four part series on Outdoor Retailer Winter 2015!

1)      Made in the USA

Gear made in the US is a big 2015 theme and the Outdoor Industry wants you to know it. It’s on the cover of the March 2015 issue of Backpacker. At OR, you could pick up a  Made in the USA Roadmap (a passport you could get stamped by various companies that make stuff in the US). And everyday, there were panels and presentations on the topic.

While consumer demand is strong, the Made in the US brand isn’t strong enough to justify the business decision alone. CEOs said it’s not just a marketing gimmick—but also just plain good practice. Companies claimed that they could control inventory, customize products, and engage in less business risk, while reducing transportation costs if they moved production back to the US.

Papers please! My Made in the USA Passport

The Made in the US Working Group of the Outdoor Industry has 175 members! That’s way more than I expected. US Made goods tended to be in the food and sock sectors (including my favorite, Darn Tough), but there were a few surprises. For example, of mainstream gear hikers use, Keen, Platypus/MSR/Thermarest, Vapur and Superfeet are all assembled here.  Of course, ultralight backpackers tend to have an easier time finding a gear kit made completely in the US—but at OR, being full of big name, big game companies—US-manufacturing companies is still fairly rare.

It’s complicated with down.
It’s complicated with down.

  2) It’s complicated with down.

Last year, we reported the industry had experienced a significant increase in down pricing. Companies warred over the best way to address this issue—from creating down-synthetic blends, to using materials like wool as insulation, to compressed air as insulation, to live-plucking of geese, to just plain increasing the price of down gear. The animal activist group, Four Paws, says that despite the formation of the Responsible Down Standard in 2014, some big companies like North Face are still using cruel down (live-plucked or force-fed geese). Patagonia uses 100% traceable down, but many companies blend their certified and not certified down. This year, the war continues with new forms of insulation, as well as in-your-face debates about the ethics of using down in the first place.

 

All about the lifestyle with these outdoor warriors.
All about the lifestyle with these outdoor warriors.

3)      It’s all about the lifestyle.

Unsurprisingly, technical gear this year (as for the last few years, who are we kidding?) took a backburner to outdoor lifestyle apparel. Jackson Hole-based Mountain Khakis headlined the Wednesday Industry party, boasting line-up that is completely lifestyle based. Luckily, many of these designs are focusing on ethical manufacturing and long-lasting all natural ingredients. The Outdoor Industry is changing with many retailers coming in as young hip mom-and-pop shops started by outdoor enthusiasts who always dreamed of owning their own gear store. These people are about more than selling product, and big brand companies are picking up on that, too.

I don’t actually have any photos of baselayers, but isn’t this an awesome photo of <a href="www.thetrailshow.com">POD from the Trail Show slacklining</a>? (Yoinked from the Trail Show)
I don’t actually have any photos of baselayers, but isn’t this an awesome photo of POD from the Trail Show slacklining? (Yoinked from the Trail Show)

4)      More options in baselayers

Even baselayers—traditionally thought of as “long underwear”—were featured as fashion accessories in the Outdoor Retailer Daily (the news for the show). This means this season, you should expect a lot of merino+lycra or merino+nylon or merino+polyester blends. 140 different brands are using merino, including a few who are using Montana sheep. Expect price wars on baselayers. Also sheep poop to add to cow poop on the CDT.

The only food-like substance at OR were these rubber pucks.
The only food-like substance at OR were these rubber pucks.

5) It doesn’t pay to be edible

Without getting into the pricing politics of having a booth at Outdoor Retailer, it was pretty surprising that Winter 2015 is the first year where big time food companies Oregon Freeze Dried (Mountain House) and Backpacker’s Pantry did not make an appearance at the Winter Show. Old timers who have been to the show dozen of times claim it’s happened before—but as a hiker, I always keep tabs on where the food is (the backpacking food companies have samples all-day long)—and this is an anomaly. Non-competition from the heavy hitters did seem to add to the traffic of oldie-but-goodie Alpine Aire (with it’s amazing new invention: freeze-dried guacamole), with its usual conveniently located booth right by the main entrance, and newbie Good-to-Go.

Luckily, the beer was still all you can drink
Luckily, the beer was still all you can drink

 6)      OIA is Scaling Back

It’s unsurprising that Show scaled back given that Show has been getting HUGE. Under the guidance of a new director, Marisa Nicholson, this year showed some reduction in the free food and giveaways–the largesse– of the event. Before the show even started, for example, there were stricter requirements for entry into the show that extended to media, retail buyers, and even exhibitors with booths. And my big question: Why did OIA decide to scale back on the Go Go dancers at the Industry party? I was hoping to snag a photo for my write-up on…

Disco is not amused by the booth babes. PC: the Trail Show
Disco is not amused by the booth babes. PC: the Trail Show

 7)      Booth babes

While not as boobs-in-your-face as previous shows, the Outdoor Industry never seems to fail to use women’s sexuality to sell goods. One Trail Show host might have referred to OR as “like a car show.” While 2015’s show lacked the girls in bikinis in a hot tub, who clearly did a good job of selling shoes in 2014, there were still plenty of girls in spandex and yoga pants, not to mention the fair share of local salesgirls, whose knowledge of the product is zilch, but sure look pretty. But it seems unlikely to stop until there’s a paradigm shift and we see more.

Women’s representation at OR
Women’s representation at OR

8)      I have a dream…

Women still make up less than half of the attendees—and that’s counting all the booth babes. I dream that one day, OR will be filled with women-owned and operated companies that extol female athletes and sell goods to women-buyers for women-owned retailers. And hey, it would be pretty cool to see some people of color, too.

That’s it for the Outdoor Retailer update! Phew! Now time to get back on the trail…

New Trends in Backpacking Food: Outdoor Retailer Sneak Peeks at What To Eat

 

Part 4 in the series on Outdoor Rertailer 2015. 

Being more of a foodie than a gearhead, I was especially stoked to sample, nibble, and gorge on all of the new foods announced at the Outdoor Retailer Show this year. Here’s a sneak peak at what to eat, from the intriguing, scrumptious, to just plain disgusting.

Most Innovative: Clif Energy Food

Clifbar unveiled their new energy food packets at Outdoor Retailer
Clifbar unveiled their new energy food packets at Outdoor Retailer

Part real food gel, part adult baby food, these pouches taste way more “real” than the competitors’ energy goop. These totally organic, gluten-free packets come in re-sealable pouches and have a shelf life of 12 months.

One major selling point on these bad boys is that they’re easier to digest than real food, but tastier and mor

e wholesome than gels. Props to Clifbar for the innovative idea. Because of the limited calorie density, I can’t see this taking off in the long distance hiking community as more than an occasional treatbar. As much as I love the Clif Energy Foods, I worry it won’t stick around for long, so start hording these before they end up on the cutting block!

The sweet flavors (90g): Banana Mango Coconut (100 calories) and Banana Beet Ginger (110 calories).

The savory flavors (120g): Sweet Potato and Sea Salt (200 calories) and the Pizza Margherita flavor (120 g—my favorite).

New Dehydrated Food: Good to Go

 

Founded by Iron Chef winner Jennifer Scism (and long time owner NY Times 4 star rated restaurant Annissa in NYC), Good to Go is a new pre-packaged backpacking dinner that first appeared at Summer OR. The flavor is pretty much advertised—restaurant quality.

The only downside is that Good to Go is dehydrated instead of freeze-dried, so Soakers like my friend Bobcat aren’t going to be able to use this food to its full potential. It appears to have as many calories as the competition, but a single serving Good to Go retails for the price of a double serving of the competition. I guess it’s still cheaper than dinner at a 4 star hotel.

Flavors: Thai Curry (380 calories per 3.8 oz) , Smoked Three Bean Chili (vegetarian, 340 calories per 3.5 oz), Mushroom Risotto (410 calories per, Classic Marinara with Penne (460 calories for 3.5 oz)

Sweet and Savory: Navitas

 

Health food store standard, Navitas organic superfood company made an appearance at Outdoor Retailer and rocked the potential for flavor and variety of all natural backpacking snacks. I was already a big fan of backpacking with the Cacao Nibs and Chia seeds, but was stoked for their new line up set to roll out this spring.

Coconut chips (three flavors): cacao, caramel, and chili lime (I tried this was and it was AWESOME). These have the potential to be a low glycemic alternative to potato chips. Of course, coconut chips are never inexpensive, but at least these come in creative flavors.

Superfood+ Line: Cacao Hemp Almonds, Chia Rosemary Pepitas, Coconut Hemp Pepitas, Goji Basil Cashews, Goldenberry Ginger Almonds, Maca Maple Cashews (incredible), Tumeric Tamari Almonds (turmeric is an all-natural ibuprofen alternative).

Although they aren’t new, I was pretty intrigued by the Power Snack cubes (Flavors include: Cacao Goji, Citrus Chia, Coffee Cacao, and Lemon Goldenberry). At $10 for 8 oz, these raw organic cubes are less expensive per oz than many other raw organic bars out there and have no added sugar.

New Twist on a Trusted Bar: Probar

Although they didn’t have a booth at Winter OR this year, during the show, several of my friends swung by ProBar headquarters and met with Jules, the CEO, who had kindly supplied the Gossamer Gear Jamboree in Moab with snacks. I’ve been excited for their two newest flavors, which rolled out a few months ago:

Almond Crunch: Let’s just say that the hikers who tried this bar loved it so much, that what they want to do to this bar is inappropriate to write in the blog. This flavor is phenomenal. (And thank you, Probar, for making a peanut-free bar!)

Strawberry Bliss: It’s like they took my favorite ingredient from the Wholeberry Blast and just dedicated a whole bar to it.

Probar also rolled out their new line, Bites, which offers the same great flavors as their Meal Replacement Bars, except in smaller-portioned (and thus lower calorie) bars. (Hikers, of course, are best sticking to the Meal Replacement Bar).

Best Idea Ever: Alpine Aire Guacamole

How many times have I been sitting on a mountain and wished that I had some guacamole for my chips? Up until now, I didn’t think it was possible to dehydrate an avocado. I thought it was physically not possible. But Alpine Aire has done it–and it’s incredible. Keep your eyes and tongue peeled for this amazing, incredible, much-dreamed about new food idea. Hikers: I introduce you to freeze dried guacamole!

Reading Material: The Ultimate Dehydrator Cookbook

Stackpole Books presented their newest backpacking food recipe book, the Ultimate Dehydrator Cookbook, which includes 398 recipes. Suitable for preppers and hikers alike, if you’re looking for an off-season hobby to get you prepared for backpacking, this book has enough projects in it to keep you busy until next off-season. It includes full color photos of what can be done with a dehydrator—although, admittedly, many of these are way too fancy for a lot of hikers.

Oldie But Goodie: New Clif Bar Flavors

At the Conservation Alliance Breakfast, Clifbar rolled out two new flavors for attendees to try:

Berry Pomegrante Chia

Nuts and Seeds

Macrodelicious: GoMacro Bar

I was pleased to see health food staple Go Macro bar at Outdoor Retailer, showing off some of their cool new packaging designs–which recently won an award for awesome art. Outdoor Retailer was a great place for them to showcase some of their new flavors that I haven’t seen in stores yet: banana + almond butter, sunflower + butter chocolate,  sesame + butter dates, and cashew caramel.

Trail Magic Award: PowerPop

The ultimate in trailside magic showed it’s face at OR this winter: an Otterpop like ice popsicle with electrolytes. I’m just saying if someone showed up at Scissor’s Crossing handing out a few of those, they’d instantly get the status of “angel” from some near-dead hikers.

For a Good Cause: Salazon Chocolate

At Outdoor Retailer, Salazon rolled out their Continental Divide Trail specific salted chocolate bar: 72% Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt and Almonds. All Salazon bars are Oragnic, Fair Trade, and Rain Forest Alliance certified. Packed with plenty of energy, uppers from the chocolate, and salt to keep your electrolytes in balance, proceeds from this bar go to the Continental Divide Trail Coalition. Now that’s some good chocolate!

Are there any food trends or flavors you’re excited to try in your backpacking food?

Stay tuned for the final segment on Outdoor Retailer: gear and marketing trends in the Outdoor Industry!

 

Outdoor Retailer Soon-to-Be-Released Gear Report

Sea to Summit’s new air mat is able to hold up 200 pounds of Allgood, wins best in show
Sea to Summit’s new air mat is able to hold up 200 pounds of Allgood, wins best in show

All right, gear junkies: eat your heart out. Here’s a sneak preview of the gear we will see on the shelves in the next few months–well, at least the stuff that ultralight hikers may be interested in.

Best of Show

Another key design advantage is the 10 second blow up/10 second blow down of the air mat.
Another key design advantage is the 10 second blow up/10 second blow down of the air mat.

Sea to Summit sleeping mat. The thru-hiker industry standard for sleeping pads, the Cascade Designs Neoair, has finally met its match. The ultralight version of this sleeping mat (the sales guy corrected me strongly when I called it a “sleeping pad,” ensuring me that it’s more like a MATtress than a pad) weighs in at 12 oz. Using “mattress technology,” the mat does not use baffles, but instead pockets that warm under you as you sleep. These pockets also prevent “bottoming out” even for bigger side sleepers. Supposedly, the pocket system are puncture resistant and all around stronger than baffles (yet to be seen). Another key advantage is their stuff-sack blow up system takes 10 seconds, and 10 seconds to deflate (this is going to be HUGE when hikers are trying to motivate themselves to get up on a cold AM, and to get moving quickly). The part that blows me out of the water, though, is the price point:  $99—significantly less expensive than its competition.

Runner Up

The new NWAlpine Eyebright!
The new NWAlpine Eyebright!

NW Alpine breathable cuben fiber rain jacket: Improving on the already awesome design of the NW Alpine Eyebright jacket, this new model uses a fabric that is stronger and easier to seam seal (not that I ever had any problem with longevity even when bushwhacking). The best part is that it’s $150 less than the previous version, putting it in the same price range as other high-end breathable cuben fiber shirts, like Z-packs, but with a more form fitting and tailored design than its competitors.

Other Cool Stuff:

Sierra Designs double sleeping bag: I’m not sure what the weight was on this design (or whether they’re even making it or it was just a marketing gimmick), but this double-bag sure was good for a laugh at the show.

Name those famous hikers!
Name those famous hikers!

Petzl’s New Ice Axe: Although not the lightest UIAA approved ice axe on the market (the 8 oz CAMP Corsa is the thru-hiker standard), this ice axe is damn near close in weight, and has a significantly more aggressive looking axe. I’m not sure on the weight, but let’s put it this way—Tomo from Hiker’s Depot—the world’s only brick and mortar ultralight store—was interested.

Go Motion Sternum strap trail running light: Designed to reduce shadow blockage and keep night hiking light sources centered on you walk, this “headlamp” that actually goes on your sternum strap, could be a revolutionary design. As an avid night hiker, I’m hoping to try one out and see how it works.

Altra Lone Peak 2.5: The go-to shoe for the long distance hiking community is coming soon in a  waterproof water-resistant material. Altra is well-aware that waterproof gear has a bad name—and with good reason—because no one wants to be walking around in Vapor Barrier stuff unless being sweaty and clammy is better than losing a toe to the cold. To address this issue, Altra teamed with a proprietary fabricmaker to create the first shoe with this particular water-resistant breathable material. It works so well that I watched Golden, one of the founders of Altra, pour a glass of water on the shoe and the contents completely rolled off. I can’t wait to take the Altra Lone Peak 2.5 on the trail and see how it breathes and holds up to snow, rain, and water.

Montrail: Bad news for lovers of the hiker standby from the early 2000s: Montrail has nothing but running slippers in their line up for the next year. No trail running shoes. No hiking shoes. Zip. I know there are a few hikers out there who still love their Montrails. Call me biased, but maybe this is just a sign you should check out the Altras.

Kelly, from Nat Geo, modeling the new maps
Kelly, from Nat Geo, modeling the new maps

National Geographic: This February is rolling out maps of two new areas: Paria Canyon and Grand Staircase/Escalante—two awesome places to visit in Utah on your next traverse of the Vagabond Loop.

Most exciting discovery this year is Nat Geo’s strong interest and dedication in making maps for long distance hikers. OR 2015 rolled out the John Muir Trail mapset. This is the first full and complete Nat Geo map set that is put together like a book. It’s a pretty brilliant idea considering I’ve bought the JMT map set at least three times because I always end up losing a page :(.

The new JMT mapset includes all the maps, elevation profiles, databook, and resupply for the trail, all for 3.3 oz and $14.95
The new JMT mapset includes all the maps, elevation profiles, databook, and resupply for the trail, all for 3.3 oz and $14.95

The whole booklet weighs 3.3 oz and has 48 pages of maps on Nat Geo’s waterproof, resistant paper. It also includes elevation profiles and a databook (!) and resupply locations. In essence, this $14.95 map set not only is less expensive than its competitors, won’t have you lose pages, but also will be the only resource you need. Oh yeah, and just to make sure you know that it’s made for thru-hikers, it was made by one of us: our own Sierra expert Justin Lichter.

Best yet—this summer, Nat Geo is rolling out a similar style map set for the Appalachian Trail! It’s going to come out in sections by state just in time for southbounders to use ‘em. If the AT maps look anything like the JMT maps, let’s just say they’re so cool, you may want maps for the AT.

Allgood and I rocking out on the ice in the new Kahtoolas
Allgood and I rocking out on the ice in the new Kahtoolas

New Katoohlas Microspikes: To be released this hiking season, this thru-hiker must-have just got lighter and better designed. The full microspike is down to 12 oz for a medium pair and the nanospike (which is advertised as a runner, but I was still shocked at how well it worked on an ice block) comes in at 8 oz for the pair. The spike itself has been redesigned with the toe bar positioned to reduce slippage (which had been a problem in the previous model, especially, I noticed, when covering terrain with ice and post holing). I’m very optimistic about the new microspike and can’t wait to try it out!!

Allgood loves the ultralight pillow
Allgood loves the ultralight pillow

Sea to Summit pillow: A new ultralight inflatable pillow that is so light, that an ultralight hiker said “Wow, I might even start carrying a pillow now!) This uses a soft material on the outer and looks more durable than other ultralight pillows, which are pretty infamous for popping after a few weeks. Depending on the model, weights range between 1.8 and 3.0 oz.

Tenacious tape in Sasquatch shapes!
Tenacious tape in Sasquatch shapes!

Tenacious tape: Just when you thought there couldn’t be any more innovations in gear repair, Tenacious tape developed several cool new products slated to roll out this spring. First, and most exciting for thru-hikers, are stretch patches, which allow gear repair for fabrics that require a little elasticity, such as silnylon tents or stretchy pants. Tenacious tape is also coming out with a mini-repair carrying container for easy on-trail transport.

Tenacious tape tattoos
Tenacious tape tattoos

Super exciting for trail runners, night hikers, and anyone who carries a bear can is the new reflective tape. Now, when the bear comes and rolls around my bear can for a while, I’ll be able to shine my headlamp around and find its reflection. Lastly, and perhaps the most fun of the new products, are tattoo gear repear in fun shapes like Sasquatch.

Swiftwater by Crocs: Realizing that most thru-hikers switch over to their Crocs for creek crossings, this summer, the lightweight campshoe company is rolling out a new hybrid campshoe/water crossing shoe. These shoes keep most of the lightweight nature of the Croc for camp shoe, while adding on a more secure attachment over-foot system and a more aggressive sole for dealing with slippery rocks. These should be rolled out this summer, but unfortunately, won’t come in the awesome colors shown here.

Allgood with a Hydrapak hydration system.
Allgood with a Hydrapak hydration system.

Hydrapak: These hydration bladder system seems to have some clear advantages over what hikers have been using for years. This hydration bag has a baffled water system, so when it rides against your back, it won’t slouch or bunch as you drink water. Best yet, you refill the bag by taking off a lock meaning that it has the world’s WIDEST refill opening ever. For those who use a hydration tube, it comes with a quick lock which means it’s easy to take off the tube at night if you need to remove it to prevent freezing at night. Although the sales person ensured me this design has been around for 12 years (apparently, it’s popular with cyclists), this is the first I’ve seen of this potential competition to my beloved Cascade Designs Platypus.

POD models the new ultralight frisbee
POD models the new ultralight frisbee

Ultralight Frisbee: For those who get into camp and just want to play a little ultimate, the 0.8 oz Frisbee folds up nicely and comes with a weight penalty that even Glen van Peski wouldn’t object to (well, maybe). Ok, so this isn’t a standard competition weight Frisbee, but good for a few trail laughs at the end of the day. Watch this video of POD and Disco playing with it in their house after OR:

Trail Logoed stuff:

CDT Point 6 socks
CDT Point 6 socks

Hey, guess what? Gear companies are starting to love on the long trails. Here’s a few new items that are going to be logoed with our favorite confidence markers.

Point 6 socks CDT, AT, PCT socks: Point 6 socks is based in Steamboat Springs and was created by the founders of Smartwool after they decided they wanted to create a more mission-oriented sock company. These awesome made-in-the-USA trail-logoed socks look really cool and benefit the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and the Pacific Crest Trail Association. They’re designed to hold up to a thru-hike, but I’m going to save mine from the sand and mud and keep it for stylin’ in town.

Vapur bottles: These lightweight water or (who are we kidding) wine carriers are logoed with the CDT logo. Because nothing says 100 mile resupply through the desert like packing out some Chardonnay.

Woolrich CDT, AT, and PCT blankets: These beautiful loomed in America wool blankets are works of art. These blankets are slated to come out to the consumer in October, but Woolrich was pre-selling the first run of these hand-signed, hand-numbered blankets. A certain founder of an ultralight gear company may have purchased one for each trail. The perfect gift for any trail lover or to get someone who loves the trail. Proceeds go to the trail organizations.

Woolrich dedicated a whole booth to long distance trails. She-ra, Swami, Czech, Jabba, and I are peddling CDT wares for a good cause.
Woolrich dedicated a whole booth to long distance trails. She-ra, Swami, Czech, Jabba, and I are peddling CDT wares for a good cause.

 

Beer tubes: Mountainsmith is creating a canned beer caddy that is good for infinite jokes. Watch out in June when you can purchase a CDT logoed beer tube!

POD and the beer tube. PC the Trail Show
POD and the beer tube. PC the Trail Show

 

Stay tuned for updates of new FOOD announced at Winter Outdoor Retailer in the next blogpost!

Mind Rockingly Awesome Outdoor Gear Presents Under $50

*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.**

Ultralight Umbrella

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

 

Sawyer Mini

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

Darn Tough socks

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

Trail Designs Gram Cracker Stove

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

Lok Sak OP Sack

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

Dirtygirl gaiters:

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

Luminaid

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

Toaks Titanium Long Handle Spoon

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

 

Hikertrash

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

Purple Rain Adventure Skirt

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

Savory Bar Review: Gardenbar Mexican Savory

This is part of a multi-part series reviewing the State of the Hiker Food Market highlighting the new trend of savory food bars. To see other savory bar reviews, check out the savory bar series.

With Brian  Davidson (trail name: Mr. Gorbachev), we took the Garden Bar Savory Mexican bar on our section-hike of the PCT in Washington.

Details:

Weight: 1.76 oz (45g) Calories: 190 Protein: 5 g.

Interesting notes: High in Vitamin C and Iron, does not contain any of the 8 major allergens. Vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, and GMO-free.

Ingredients I’m intrigued by: teff flakes, quinoa crisps, amaranth flakes, dried crimini mushrooms, freeze dried olives (did not know this was possible!), yellow corn chips (in a bar? Interesting…) black bean flakes (also interesting in a bar)

Price: $1 a piece, so definitely on the reasonable size. Note this is the price Gardenbar charged at PCT Days , so retailers may increase the price.

Overall thoughts: Mr. G really enjoyed the flavor, but these tasted too much like normal hiker dinner (dehydrated black beans) for me to be really excited about it. If I want black beans and corn chips, I’ll eat my dehydrated dinner with Fritos.

Where to get: Gardenbar website, coops and grocery stores in the Pacific Northwest including (but not limited to) Portland, Ashland, Cascade Locks (right on the PCT), Corvallis, Eugene, Vancouver, and randomly . . . my home in Denver.

Gardenbar flavors tested
Gardenbar flavors tested

 

Disclaimer: We purchased these bars with our own money and have no relation or contact with the company.

Savory bar review: KIND Strong bars

Mr. G is a little intimidated by the Jalapeno flavor
Mr. G is a little intimidated by the Jalapeno flavor

This is part of a multi-part series reviewing the State of the Hiker Food Market highlighting the new trend of savory food bars. To see other savory bar reviews, check out the savory bar series.

With Brian  Davidson (trail name: Mr. Gorbachev), we took the Strong and KIND Savory bars on our section-hike of the PCT in Washington.

The KIND Strong bars come in five flavors (going from mildest to spicest):

We reviewed the first four (my peanut allergy prevented us from sampling the Thai).

 

Details:

Weight: 1.58 oz (45g) Calories: 230 Protein: 10 g. Note: the highest calories and protein of any of the bars reviewed

Interesting notes: Very high protein (10g) and the protein is soy and whey free, Vegan, Gluten-free, GMO-Free

Ingredients I’m intrigued by: Almond-base, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds. I LOVE the BBQ flavors as these are all major umami tastes that I crave on trail.

I love how all the Strong and Kind bars have a heat meter to tell how spicy they are
I love how all the Strong and Kind bars have a heat meter to tell how spicy they are

Price: $1.50 a piece at Sprouts supermarket. Foods this price go into my “treat bar” category instead of the “utility bar” category. However, KIND bars frequently go on sale and has enough calories that it could easily become a utility bar.

Overall thoughts: The KIND Strong bars tasted great and had a hefty, nutty crunch that I really enjoyed compared to other savory bars reviewed. I really appreciated that it had the highest calories and protein of any the bars reviewed. The flavors tasted all fairly similar as they all use a similar base with a few spices added here and there—but that flavor was very satisfying (see spreadsheet of ingredients below). This is very different than the approaches the other savory bar companies have taken, which is to use completely different ingredients in their different flavors. I suspect that KIND’s model makes their bars easier to manufacture, which means we should expect to see the Strong bar’s on the market for a long time to come(definitely a good thing!).

Ingredients in the 4 KIND Strong bars tested. The bars all have similar bases with different spices added.

As a hiker, I find it silly that KIND chooses to advertise these bars as having 42% less fat than almonds alone—backpackers want that fat! As much as I enjoyed these bars, for those on a tight budget, it would be less expensive to just eat the bulk ingredient of all these bars: smoked almonds. That being said, I always crave BBQ flavors on-trail and the KIND and Strong bars definitely hit that spot! If you’ve got a few bucks to spend and a huge hankering for hickory on-trail, this was the best tasting BBQ bar we tried.

Where to get: Amazon, REI stores, major grocery stores everywhere. KIND has put a huge marketing campaign behind these bars, which makes me optimistic that they will be on the market for a long time (unlike other early developers of savory bars).

Long Term Review of the NW Alpine Eyebright Jacket

Using the<a href="http://nwalpine.com/store/#!/Eyebright-Jacket/p/21771509/category=5235882"> NW Alpine Eyebright jacket </a>on top of Mt. Tallac with Lake Tahoe in the background. Photo by Brian Gunney.
Using the NW Alpine Eyebright jacket on top of Mt. Tallac with Lake Tahoe in the background. Photo by Brian Gunney.

This past season, I’ve had the pleasure of trying out the NW Alpine Eyebright Jacket. At 4.8-5.4 oz for a small, it’s the lightest fully waterproof jacket on the market. Made with breathable cuben fiber, whose properties are covered in depth by HikeLighter, the Eyebright jacket is functional in a wide variety of climates and situations and can be used as part of an ultralight gear system in ways very different than a traditional backpacking rain jacket. This versatility and mutli-use gives it a clear advantage over other rain jackets on the market.

First and foremost–the Eyebright jacket fits really well. This isn’t something to be taken lightly in the backpacking world as more than one rain jacket I’ve had over the years has been overly billowy which is not only less functional and more susceptible to letting water in, but dumpy looking. Instead, on the Eyebright jacket, pull cords make sure that the hood stays secure whether I have a hat, a beanie, or nothing on under it. The Napoleon pocket is great for keeping maps and snacks, especially since I hate to stop to pull things out of my pack when it is raining and not all rain jackets offer that feature. Unlike other rain jackets on the market, the sleeves are long enough and Velcro keeps them snug. Lastly, the design itself is sleek (which is somewhat important to me, as in the past, I avoided taking photos because my rain protection was less than flattering).

Yet another rainy PCT finish on the Washington-Canada border. The time, my rain gear doesn’t make me loop like a Teletubby AND I have a Stehekin bakery cinnamon roll.
Yet another rainy PCT finish on the Washington-Canada border. The time, my rain gear doesn’t make me loop like a Teletubby AND I have a Stehekin bakery cinnamon roll.

My season started with multiple day hikes with temperatures as low as 0 degrees F in white-out snow storms in Colorado. Wanting to test out the Eyebright’s breathability, I layered it over my Western Mountaineering Flash Jacket and Patagonia Nanopuff down pullover. Snow piled up on me and I knew that if the jacket wasn’t waterproof enough, it would soak my down and make for a very cold and unpleasant dayhike. If the jacket didn’t breathe, the down would also compress. I knew a hard dayhike was the best way to test it because if something went wrong, I’d make it back to my warm home no worse for the wear. I was afraid to test it on an overnighter because it seemed too risky.

Using the Eyebright jacket on a shoulder season cross-country hike in the High Sierra with Glen van Peski. The Eyebright held up well as I dragged my butt across the granite boulders over the high passes.
Using the Eyebright jacket on a shoulder season cross-country hike in the High Sierra with Glen van Peski. The Eyebright held up well as I dragged my butt across the granite boulders over the high passes.

Much to my amazement, the down+Eyebright combo worked really well! The cuben fiber was incredibly waterproof and breathable and after several dayhikes, I felt comfortable that the combo would work on a thru-hike.

I next took the Eyebright on a really early season hike of the Transadirondack Route. This winter, the Adirondacks were hit with temperatures as low as -40F and late season snow. I was the only person stupid enough to be out there that early in the season and was postholing up to my waist for much of the trip. Although I didn’t have a thermometer, temperatures easily got into the teens (if not lower). It was so cold that I wore my Eyebright constantly throughout the trip. I was so confident in its breathability that I didn’t take it off to sleep, keeping it over my down layers and under my sleeping bag. There was no condensation inside the jacket and no compressed down!

Eyebright during a storm in northern Washington
Eyebright during a storm in northern Washington

I was concerned about the durability of the cuben fiber, especially on bushwhacks. The Trans Adirondack Route had multiple cross country sections bushwhacking through lots of trees and downed branches. The cuben fiber even got caught on a dead tree once but held strong against the elements. I’ve also used the Eyebright on some alpine 2nd-3rd class rock climbs/scrambles in the Sierra where I knew I was dragging against granite but had to do it or else I’d fall, and the Eyebright jacket held up well.

The ultimate test for breathability and keeping dry was taking the NW Alpine jacket back to its home region—the Pacific Northwest. Most of my miles this season were based out here—from the pioneering journey of the Chinook Route to all of Washington on the PCT to a thru-hike of the Wonderland Trail. Each trip presented me with cold rain or snow and steep, sweat-inducing uphills. On each trail, the Eyebright kept me dry from rain and free from sweat accumulation under the jacket—even on the uphills. It has the breathable feel of a windshirt with the waterproofing of a heavier rainjacket.

This season, I became so confident in the Eyebright’s breathability that I stopped carrying my windshirt altogether for several hikes this season, including a thru-hike of the Tahoe Rim Trail. In Buckskin Gulch/Paria Canyon in northern Arizona and southern Utah, I was expecting no precip, but brought my Eyebright in lieu of a windshirt. It kept me warm against the wind without sweating and I was especially happy when an unexpected rain + wind storm hit. I was warm and dry—better than I can say for my hiking buddies!

Although the price isn’t insignificant, hikers easily spend as much on a cuben fiber tarp or backpack. Frankly, I spend more time hiking than I spend sleeping in my tarp—so I’d much rather invest in a good rain jacket. I learned how to backpack in California and my dislike of hiking in the rain is so great, that I’m willing prioritize staying dry while hiking. The price also takes into account the jackets are made by a small business in the U.S., both of which I like to support with regards to my gear.

For those looking for a similar design at a lower price, the NW Alpine Simplicity jacket is a similar cut but made with a DWR treated ripstop nylon serving as a good in-between for a windshirt and rain protection. At $90 (sale price), it’s a great deal, especially compared to other technical windshirts on the market like the Patagonia Houdini or the Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer.

In conclusion, of all my new hiking gear this season, the Eyebright jacket is my favorite. Functional, versatile, and light, it’s a great addition to my ultralight long distance hiking system.

Disclaimer: NW Alpine gave me the opportunity to test out the Eyebright for personal feedback. I was not obligated to write an online review, but after 8 months of backpacking with the Eyebright, I wanted to share it with other like-minded backpackers. The post is my own opinion after hiking with the Eyebright as my rain gear for the last 8 months.

Savory Bar Review: Slow Food for Fast Lives Indian savory bar

 

With guest vlogger, Brian “Mr. Gorbachev” Davidson, we took the Slow Food for Fast Lives  Indian savory bar on the Colorado Trail.

Weight: 1.4 oz (40g) Calories: 180 Protein: 5 g

Interesting nutritional notes: Very high in Vitamin C (35%), and pretty good in Iron (8%), Vegan, Gluten-free, GMO-Free

Ingredients I’m intrigued by: CAULIFLOWER (I’m kind of in love with this veggie and can never get it on trail), Lentils (so novel to have this in a bar), Coconut+coconut oil, Potatoes (shouldn’t more bars have potatoes?), Turmeric (good as an anti-inflammatory), Mangoes, Ginger

Price: $1.50 a piece on sale at Sprouts. Foods this price go into my “treat bar” category instead of the “utility bar” category.

Overall thoughts: Amazing—perhaps my favorite bar of all those we reviewed. Loved the density and mouthfeel and it had a fantastic Indian food flavor that I’ve never found in another trail food, including freeze dried stuff.  It could be calorie denser, but it could also work well as a lower-calorie post-gym, dayhike, or bored at the office snack. This is the perfect bar to bring on one of those multi-thousand mile trails where you don’t expect to find many Indian restaurants for the next six months, like the Continental Divide Trail, Pacific Northwest Trail, anything in the desert…etc.

Where to get: Slow Food for Fast Lives website, Amazon,  Coops and Natural Food stores in more than 20 states, and Sprouts Farmer’s market grocery stores.

Disclaimer: Mr. G and I purchased these bars with our own money. All bars were tested on trail while hiking–so our reviews may be based on hunger rather than taste. I’m allergic to peanuts and don’t eat turkey, so not all flavors are reviewed.

Review of the Gardenbar Savory Japanese Food Bar

With guest vlogger, Brian “Mr. Gorbachev” Davidson, we took the Gardenbar Japanese Savory on the Colorado Trail.

Details:

Weight: 1.76 oz (50g) Calories: 190 Protein: 5 g

Interesting nutritional notes: Very high in Vitamin A (30%) and C (35%), and pretty good in Calcium (6%) and Iron (8%), Vegan, Gluten-free, GMO-Free

Ingredients I’m intrigued by: Quinoa crisps, dried shiitake mushrooms, freeze dried red cabbage, sesame seeds, Freeze dried Miso, Nori Vegetarian seaweed, wasabi powder

Price: $1 a piece, so definitely on the reasonable size. Note this is the price Gardenbar charged at PCT Days , so retailers may increase the price.

Overall thoughts: Delicious—one of the best of those we reviewed as part of the series, and definitely a unique flavor! Could be denser (heavier on nuts and calories), but it tastes great and has a lot of healthy ingredients harder to find on trail. Because it isn’t as calorie dense as my go-to on-trail bar, the Probar, it could also work well as a lower-calorie post-gym, dayhike, or bored at the office snack.

Where to get: Gardenbar website, coops and grocery stores in the Pacific Northwest including (but not limited to) Portland, Ashland, Cascade Locks (right on the PCT), Corvallis, Eugene, Vancouver, and randomly . . . a tea store where I live in Denver.

Disclaimer: Mr. G and I purchased these bars with our own money. All bars were tested on trail while hiking–so our reviews may be based on hunger rather than taste. I’m allergic to peanuts and don’t eat turkey, so not all flavors are reviewed.