THE PLACE TO GO WHEN YOU CAN'T GO BACKPACKING

Author

Ruby McConnell

Ruby McConnell has 4 articles published.

Book Review – Awesome Woman’s Outdoor Guide

in Community/Skills by

woman’s outdoor guideA WOMAN’S GUIDE TO THE WILD
Your Complete Outdoor Handbook
By Ruby McConnel and Illustrated by Teresa Grasseschi
287 pp. Available through Sasquatch Books or Amazon for $18.95

As the outdoors increasingly becomes a mystery to our screen bound society, Ruby McConnel writes a practical guide to all the secrets of the wild that beginners need to know.  This woman’s outdoor guide is humorous, conversational, and packed with vital outdoor skills and tips.  Reading it is like having a lively chat with your best friend at your favorite coffee shop.  Everything from how to start a fire, to how to handle hygiene on the trail, Ruby covers it all with humor and humility.

For many, the lack of basic outdoor knowledge is a barrier to enjoying extended forays into the wild.  Often, budding outdoors enthusiast feel self-conscious about asking questions. Questions like, “what do I take and how do I pack my backpack,” can seem basic, causing the budding outdoors enthusiast to feel self-conscious about asking questions.  In her woman’s outdoor guide, Ruby provides the answers and context to help the novice outdoors woman feel confident going gear shopping and hitting the trail.

Besides her own expert knowledge, Ruby also includes sage advice from other women with professional outdoor knowledge.  Learn weather tips from an experienced Forest Service biologist.  Find out helpful hints about packing for extended trips from an Appalachian Trail trekking expert.  These sections help make the book feel approachable and collaborative.  You are not getting a book by an authoritative expert telling you how you have to do it; this book is a conversation among friends talking about different ways to enjoy the outdoors.

In addition to wonderful advice, the book is beautifully illustrated by Teresa Grasseschi.  Teresa’s technical drawings help Ruby tell the story of the outdoors and the stylized accents on each page set the outdoor atmosphere.  You can almost smell the pine and hear the crackle of the campfire through Teresa’s amazing drawings.

Simply put, this is the perfect woman’s outdoor guide with beautiful illustrations.  Highly recommend for beginning and novice outdoors women or as a gift for a woman interested in exploring the wild.  Read more from Ruby at RubyMcConnell.com

Columbia Sportswear Mighty Lite III Jacket

in Gear by

Columbia Sportswear Mighty Lite III

Sometimes, it’s good to be wrong. Like when it comes to basic comfort. Fir instance, for reasons of my own, I have avoided down “puffy” coats for years. It wasn’t that I didn’t think they were warm, it was more that they reminded me of the thick down vests my Dad wore on fishing trips in the eighties, and Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future. And, well,they were just so very, very puffy. To me, they always seemed a little too akin to sweatpants, or a muumuu like experience of just giving up and wearing your sleeping bag everywhere you go. So I didn’t wear them. Instead, I layered thermals and mid layers and fleece, and shells and all in all, I felt like I stayed pretty warm regardless of the weather.

And then, two years ago in preparation for a winter trip to Taos, my boyfriend bought me one. It was a no frills, entry-level puffy coat on the bottom end of both insulation (read, not very puffy) and cost. It was boxy, unflattering, lacking lining and in an odd kind of rash-colored pink. And I fell stupid in love with it. Turns out, I had been cold that whole time, just unwilling to admit it. And the reality is, the older I get, the harder it is to stay cold.

Columbia Sportswear Mighty Lite IIISo this winter, before heading out to the Oregon high desert for the holidays, I went hunting for a different model, one that would be everything I had ever (the last two years) dreamed a puffy coat could be. For me, this means a couple of specific things. First, it still can’t be too puffy. The giant thick jackets are warm, sure, but become rapidly too hot with exertion, or as soon as I pull on a shell. Also, they have to be designed for women with hips since, well, I have hips. And a butt. And decent self esteem if I am wearing clothes that fit me properly. Finally, it has to be tough. I sweat and get dirty and go out in all kinds of weather, and I want my gear to keep up with me.

It turns out, there is no lack of choices in puffy coats. And they can run you up to $350. But they increase in puffiness (and warmth) with price, and since I am not a fan of the super puff, I set a $200 limit. At that price, you can still choose from at least ten coats in most gear stores, but I settled on the Columbia Sportswear Mighty Lite III. It comes in five colors, peach, pink, light blue, deep purple and basic black, and they are all subdued enough to feel comfortable wearing out and about in regular life.

Columbia Sportswear Mighty Lite IIIThe Might Lite III has a reflective thermal lining, wrist cuffs with thumb holes, fleece-lined zipper pockets, and a flattering and comfortable cut for curves and broad shoulders. It was the only jacket that fit over my hips without looking boxy. I took it home and packed it with me out to the cabin. Then the daytime temperature dropped to around ten degrees Fahrenheit and stayed there for an entire week. So I wore my puffy coat. And it was like giving up and wearing my sleeping bag all day. And it was wonderful.

Sometimes a little too wonderful, even at those low temperatures this jacket can be a bit too warm, but opening the zipper around the neck and the pockets helps cool you down slowly. And that insulating power means that it keeps you warm even if you are just standing around a campfire at night. The dark purple I chose doesn’t seem to show dirt and seems to be a little sturdier than that material from my previous jacket. Like most down coats, it doesn’t serve as a waterproof outer layer, but since it isn’t super puffy, it fits nicely under my raincoats and snow jackets. I bought a size up from my usual medium to accommodate extra base layers, which turned out to be a good idea given the jackets tailored fit.

The best part of this jacket though is how reasonably it’s priced. It’s a lot of warmth and comfort for a third of the price of other coats. You can purchase this one directly from Columbia’s website, where it’s receiving five-star ratings for $110. It can be a cold, cold world out there, go get yourself some puff.

Columbia Sportswear Mighty Lite III

 

Bottom Line:

A great thermal coat at a reasonable price for anyone spending time outside this winter.

Tech Specs:
Date available: Already in stores
MSRP: US $110.00
Materials: polyester
Dimensions: sizes xs-xl, runs small

On the Hunt: Fall Mushroom Hunting in the Northwest

in Food/Skills by
Photo by pfly Flickr.com
Photo by pfly Flickr.com

The rain has come. Most of us grimace and grit our teeth at the first few showers of the year, preparing to hunker down inside our rain gear and under umbrellas for the next few months. The first weeks are the hardest, we slip into the early stages of recovery – anger and denial, refusing to venture out, to give in to soggy pants legs and cold hands. We brace ourselves for the time change and the short, gray days of winter. We might cancel the first hike of the season due to rain and stay home instead to make cookies or contemplate taking up an indoor hobby, perhaps some kind of craft. We might as well, we think, just wait for the ski season.

 

Photo by Tatiana Bulyonkova Flickr.com
Photo by Tatiana Bulyonkova Flickr.com

In reality, we should be celebrating. These first warm rains bring the mushrooms.

 

The ease and abundance of Pacific Northwest fall mushroom hunting is more than enough reason to buck up against the rains early in the season. In a good year, one that is warm and wet and the rains arrive in the weeks before Halloween, even inexperienced and accidental hunters can come home with armloads of edible wild mushrooms in just a couple of hours. A good year makes a walk in the woods something more akin to a treasure hunt than a hike; adults turn into giddy school kids, squealing with glee when they find an untouched patch of matsutakes, carefully stacking them into baskets to keep them safe. A good year gives us reason to get outside during the shoulder season.

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This is a good year.

The best early indication of a good season are the mushroom camps. Wild mushrooms are exactly that, wild. They hide dormant under the duff for most of the year, waiting for just the right conditions before pushing through the surface. Most species are persnickety, requiring a specific combination of elevation, light and growing surface, making them difficult and expensive to cultivate. Somebody has to go out and find them. That’s where the mushroom camps come in. Mushroom camps are tiny village camps, some improvised, others hosted by local ski resorts – or even the Forest Service – that pop up in areas with abundant mushrooms. They teem with rubber-boot clad hobbyists, enthusiastic foodies, migrant workers with five gallon buckets strapped across their shoulders and buyers with pickup trucks. In a bad year, you would hardly even know the camps exist. In a good year, the buyers sit in dense clusters along the highway waiting for even casual hunters to unload some of their bounty. This year, there are large, hand-printed signs heralding camps and mushroom hunting hikes and tours.

The best part of this is that, if you’re new to mushroom hunting, you get a great sense of where to start looking. There is a long-standing tradition of secrecy among even the most casual of mushroom hunters that rivals the magicians code. “Thou shalt not reveal your hunting grounds.” It’s both necessary and irritating. Reliable patches make for easy hunting and will provide you with more than one bloom – if you’re the only one that knows about it. In a bad year, no one will tell you where to find mushrooms. But this is a good year and, in good years, people feel generous. The abundance allows them to hand out info on hunting grounds that may only produce a few mushrooms in a regular year, but make for decent hunting when conditions are right. Good years are for learning, watching how others hunt, finding your own grounds and getting out with people who know what they’re doing.

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The season is on. Buck up, dig out your rain coat and grab a basket. There’s reason yet to get outside.

 

Mushroom Hunting Basics:

Buy a good mushroom field guide, and read through it before setting out. My favorite is All That the Rain Promises, and More… by David Arora.

Find out what kind of mushrooms you’re looking for before you set out, and choose your destination based on their habitat needs.

Go with someone more experienced with you. Not all mushrooms are safe to eat – make sure you know what you are looking for.

Check the regulations. Some kinds of mushrooms require permits to harvest.

Be low impact. Always harvest with a knife and replace the duff cover.

Don’t over-harvest. Take only what you will use and plan on coming back for a second round.

Double check. Lay your mushrooms out at home and double check your identification. If you have any doubt, throw it out.

Reduce waste. In good years its easy to harvest more than you can eat. Share with friends, dehydrate or saute and freeze your extra harvest to eat throughout the winter.

When Kids Get Lost: Preparing Your Child to be Safe Outside

in Community/Skills by

Kids Get LostThere are a lot of eventualities that I prepare for when I go outside, even if the likelihood of them occurring is slim. I have a plan of action for injury, illness and unexpected weather and, over the years, a lot of those things have happened. But two weeks ago, while hiking in the Jefferson Wilderness of Central Oregon, I found myself in a situation that felt more like a movie plot than something you might be prepared for in a wilderness survival class.

I found a lost child in the woods.

He was nine years old, spunky, polite and really really scared. He was also dehydrated, disoriented and entirely unprepared to be outside by himself. His parents hadn’t just let him go off alone; they had let him take the dog on a short walk down a trail by a campsite they had used many times over the week they had been camping. He was only supposed to be gone for a few minutes. But when the dog bolted and he lost the leash, he ran after it into the forest, worried about getting in trouble for losing it. When he finally decided he couldn’t find the dog, he discovered he also couldn’t find the trail. From that point on, he just kept wandering farther and farther into the woods. That he was smart enough to call out to me and ask for help was to his credit, but that was where his ability to help me, or himself, get him back to his family ended. He couldn’t tell me where he was staying, what kind of vehicle his family drove, or even a cell phone number for his parents. It was hours before I was able to, with the help of other hikers, campers and the sheriff’s office, reunite him with his panicked family.

It turns out that this is more common than we would like to believe. Kids are spontaneous, curious and often unaware of time and distance. It is easy for them to wander off, run off trail following wildlife, become disoriented or get separated from adults by lagging behind or running ahead. Once they are out of visual range and ear shot, it can be very hard to find them again. It was an eye-opening experience for everyone involved and a great learning experience about prevention and how kids need to be prepared to go outside. Here’s what we learned:

Kids Get Lost
Photo by Andy Porter

Before You Go:

Make sure your kids know their birth dates and first and last names (and yours if they are different) and how to spell them.

Have them memorize at least one emergency phone number, or prepare an emergency information card that they can keep with them outside that includes contact names and phone numbers, where you are staying, a description of your vehicle and any important medical conditions.

Make a family safety plan and talk about it before you go. This should include setting time and distance boundaries, what they should do if they get lost, and what your plan of action will be to reunite.

Pack additional safety/emergency items including medical bracelets, safety whistles and kids-sized packs and watches so they have some essential tools if they get separated from you.

When You Arrive:

Walk the area with them, note major landmarks and the name of the campsite, trail head or nearest road.

Make sure they’re wearing their safety card or medical bracelet, I have even seen parents write an emergency number in permanent marker on kids arms, it will wash off in a day or two.

Remind them of your safety rules and tell them that if they get lost, stay put and use their whistle.

When you head out, make sure they are carrying a minimal amount of safety equipment themselves, including first aid, water and an extra layer.

Kids Get Lost
Photo by Rebecca Walsh

If They Get Lost:

Call the sheriff and the ranger and notify camp hosts and other hikers and campers in the area.

Leave one person by the trail head or campsite in case they find their way back, and have a plan for checking in with one another.

Use your safety whistle, it may guide them back to you.

Don’t panic. Moving too quickly may only put more distance between you and officials, and volunteer searchers need you to be calm and communicative. Hysterical parents only draw focus away from the search and slow down the process.

Kids Get Lost
Photo by Anatol Jasiutyn Flicker.com

When You Find Them:

Check them for injuries and dehydration immediately, kids will often try to hide these things out of embarrassment.

Reassure them that they’re not in trouble before asking them for information or chastising them for breaking rules.

Wait a day or two before revisiting the incident to review safety rules, they will be more receptive after they have had a chance to recover.

Frame the conversation in positives, let them know what they did right, and what they can do differently in the future.

Review your own handling of the situation and adjust your plan of action and safety rules for the future.

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