THE PLACE TO GO WHEN YOU CAN'T GO BACKPACKING

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Sierra Davis

Sierra Davis has 11 articles published.

Trail Chef iPhone App & E-Book Review

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Trail-Chef-2-338x600

Trail Chef iPhone App

I’m a firm believer that everything tastes better in the backcountry after a long day on the trail. However, it takes some careful preplanning to ensure your three square meals are easy to prepare and even easier to clean up.

The Trail Chef iPhone App gives you an easy and organized way to create an appetizing backpacking menu. After downloading the app to your smartphone, you have access to more than 50 recipes that are great for backpacking and the option to add your own favorites. You can prearrange your backpacking meals in categories, get their nutritional info and plan daily menus according to your caloric needs and preferences.

Before using the app, I thought there was no way I wanted to incorporate anything digital into my backcountry experience. I hit the trail to get away from my phone and my email, and the last thing I want to do is bring them with me.

However, after getting more familiar with the app, I realized the bulk of its use occurs before you’re on the trail—and it proved extremely helpful in planning out what I would need to pack for each meal and, more Trail Chef iPhone Appimportantly, what prep could be done at home to speed up meal time on the trail. When you’ve been playing in the woods all day, the sooner you can eat, the better.

I didn’t use the app while I was in the backcountry, but it does have off line capabilities if you do end up taking your phone with you. Just make sure you write down or memorize the “on trail” steps for the recipe if you decide not to bring your phone camping.

First, you’ll choose a recipe from either meal categories (breakfast, main course, etc.) or, more specifically, by vegetarian, one-pot, lightweight, dessert or others options.

Once you’ve chosen the category, you can scroll through recipe options that include information like cook time, calories and weight. Once you make your choice, the app will let you know what you’ll need to cook it in (pot, pan, etc.), the ingredients list (hugely helpful while at the grocery store!), what can be done at home, what to do on the trail, as well as detailed nutritional information. Most of these recipes are for one person, so if you’re cooking for two—or just eating double portions—make sure to account for that when portioning the ingredients.

Trail Chef iPhone AppI often find I repeat so many of the same backpacking meals that are, admittedly, unexciting. I’m usually so hungry I don’t mind, but the Trail Chef recipes are full of flavor and combinations I never would have thought to take on the trail. One super easy (that’s how it’s ranked!) option I love is the Moroccan Spiced Tuna Couscous. You only need one pot, so clean up is a breeze, and it only takes about 10 minutes to make. At home, combine couscous, tomatoes and a special spice mixture in one ziplock; tomato paste, salt and tuna stay separate (tip: use tuna packets rather than cans). On the trail, boil water to cook the grain, add your other ingredients (already measured out), mix and enjoy. There are almost 20 grams of protein in this dish and it’s packed full of flavor.

The next time you’re sitting through a boring meeting, dreaming of your weekend excursion, browse through the many different options and flag your favorites with the star icon in the top right corner. From the homepage, you can easily access them.

There’s also the option to make a meal plan for a multi-day trip, which helps keep food organized, so you’re not left with too little on your trip or waste energy packing in too much. You select the number of days, Trail Chef iPhone Appthen choose recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for each day. The app will total up the daily calories and weight of the food/ingredients for each day, making it really easy to track and plan.

The app is very well thought out, and each recipe is trail tested by the creator Tanya Krezevska, the woman behind a well known site called Trail Recipes. She has also authored two E-books, Trail Chef: 50 Lightweight Backpacking Meal Recipes and Trail Chef: 100 Simple and Delicious Recipes for Hiking, Camping and Backpacking.

The books go into much more detail than the app does and are great reads, especially if you’re interested in nutrition. Tanya has done a great job, both in the app and the books, with meals made with natural, real foods and ingredients. No harmful preservatives, no fillers or artificial colors, just natural good eats.

Bottom Line:

The app is easy to use, full of great information and delicious recipes. The books are loaded with more good recipes, but the app is much more functional in terms of prep and planning.

Tech Specs:

Trail Chef App: $2.99, available for iOS

Trail Chef E-book 50 Recipes: $3.99

Trail Chef E-book 100 Recipes: $4.99

To Download: https://itunes.apple.com/app/trail-chef/id928938181?mt=8

 

Kelty Women’s Catalyst 76 Review

in Gear by
Kelty Women’s Catalyst 76 - 1

Kelty Women’s Catalyst 76

Hauling gear, food and clothes into the backcountry for anytime longer than a few days is a huge undertaking. In addition to logging serious millage on a trip of that length, it’s also easy to get bogged down with a heavy pack that puts added strain on your body. The Kelty Women’s Catalyst 76 backpack has the space to carry all the extra gear you need when you’re on an extended adventure, and then some. While I packed the Catalyst for a 5+ day summer trip, this beast of a pack would also be a great option for winter treks that require bulky clothing and a bigger sleeping pad.

Kelty Women’s Catalyst 76

The pack’s signature Perfect-FIT Suspension system makes it easy to dial in the weight distribution to make a pack of this size manageable. It’s worth spending some time wearing the pack around before you venture out on the big trip to get the adjustment right. If you have a full length mirror, it helps to look at yourself with the pack on to get it fitted correctly. Adjusting the Perfect-FIT suspension is as simple as pulling the two straps behind your hips until you feel the right support.

Kelty Women’s Catalyst 76

Standard sternum straps, waist belt and load lifting straps can all be easily adjusted to find the right fit. Sternum straps can give us ladies some trouble, but the placement here seemed to be fine for my body type. Great padding on the waist belt helped me comfortably carry the load on my hips, giving my neck and shoulders a rest. Padding on the shoulder straps is adequate and comfortable even when hiking in a tank top. The aluminum internal frame is light, but provided good support and structure, especially when the pack was maxed out and towering high.

Kelty Women’s Catalyst 76

The Catalyst is top loading, but also has a side access sleeping bag compartment and main bag access zipper that mean you don’t have to fully unload your gear to get to the bottom of your pack. This is a huge plus with a full 76L pack. Stretchable mesh belt pockets and side pockets are also perks of this pack, providing quick access to small goods like a camera, water bottle or snacks. A light raincoat could also easily fit into a side pocket for easy access. Because of the placement of the side pockets, while your water bottle is easy to grab, it’s a bit trickier to put away.

There’s a zippered top lid on the Catalyst, standard to most packs, for whatever you want to have easy access to, like map, sunscreen, headlamp, bug spray, or rain cover (not included). There is such a huge amount of room in this pack, be careful not to over pack just because you can. It’s easy to expand to fit your space, and, on long trips, your pack will fill up plenty full on its own, so be mindful that you’re not stashing extras in all of the awesome nooks and crannies just because you can.

Kelty Women’s Catalyst 76

I was able to fit my tent, poles, pad and sleeping bag internally, but there are straps on the outside should you need them. The 10L detachable daypack is one of my favorite features of the Catalyst. It’s easy to snap on (though it took me a bit longer to figure out reattachment the first time) and hydration compatible. It’s essentially a small, roll-top bag great for day hikes that take you away from camp. This is a huge plus. I should mention that the main pack is also hydration compatible, so there’s easy access for your bladder and hose there as well.

Bottom Line:

Kelty makes solid products, and this pack is solid, too. It sits comfortably on my hips and doesn’t pull back on my shoulders. A pack of this size, however, is meant for the long haul trip. Make sure that’s what you’re planning to use it for, or you’ll end up with way more pack than you’ll need or use.

Tech Specs:

Date available: now

MSRP: US $199.95

Materials: polyester

Dimensions: 76L, 32 x 13 x 15 in

Weight: 5 lbs

Munk Pack Oatmeal Fruit Squeezes Review

in Gear by
Munk Pack 1

Munk Pack

Having snacks on hand in the backcountry is key for keeping energy high and the experience smooth (with or without kids!). But with limited possibilities, finding a fix that is quick and easy and doesn’t detour your nutritional goals can be challenging.

While hiking, I usually turn to fruit, nuts and seeds, but, truth be told, I tire of them quickly and my sweet tooth and I are often left wanting. If on a trail run (or during a road race), I turn to a variety of goos, blocks and gels to keep me going, but my struggle here is usually texture and the need for extra water to wash it down.

Munk Pack

To test a new snack opportunity, I took a sampling of three oatmeal/fruit squeezable pouches called Munk Packs out on the trail with me earlier this month.

Each 4.2 oz pouch, with flavors including Apple Quinoa Cinnamon, Raspberry Coconut and Blueberry Acai Flax, is a 80-100 calorie blend of whole grain rolled oats, flax seed and fruits. Instead of being packed with sugar like so many energy and granola bars, these light and portable snacks are packed with fiber, which was a plus for me right off the bat. When I’m on the trail, I want real nutrients not a sugar high that’s going to having me crashing before the end of the day.

Munk Pack

The packs are filling and the texture is much better than the energy gels I’ve choked down in the past. Of course, it’s always important to hydrate on the trail, but you don’t need water to get these down, which is nice if you’re snacking while on the move.

In addition to being sans artificial sweeteners, syrups or other fillers, the packs are dairy and gluten free, which is a plus for those with dietary concerns. Each Munk Pack is also kosher, vegan and GMO-free. For being so au natural, they packed a lot of natural flavor that made eating them a treat rather than a chore and provided a great boost of energy.

No need to refrigerate these, so you can shove a few into the outside pockets of your pack.

If you are in the northeast of the United States you can find them at Whole Foods and several other mom-and-pop grocers across the Northeast. Alternately, you can can find a retailer by placing your zip code into the finder here. Later this year they should be available nationwide. In the meantime you can order online at munkpack.com or at Amazon.com. A six-pack goes for $15.

Munk Pack

Bottom Line:

If you’re looking for a tasty snack on the trail that’s easy to eat and clean-up, but won’t derail your nutritional goals, check out Munk Pack Oatmeal Fruit Squeezes.

Tech Specs:

Date available: Now

MSRP: $15/6

Weight: 4.02 oz

Flavors: Apple Quinoa Cinnamon, Blueberry Acai Flax, Raspberry Coconut

Paleo Meals to Go Review

in Food/Gear by
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Paleo Meals to Go

While I am firm believer that everything tastes better in the backcountry, finding lightweight options that provide ample calories, but don’t add bulk to your pack, can be a challenge. Adding in dietary restrictions or specialty diets can make dining al fresco on the trail even trickier.

On a recent trek through Las Flores Canyon, I took along a variety pack of freeze-dried backpacking meals from Paleo Meals to Go – created by a Denver-based mother/son team. While I don’t adhere to the paleo diet, I seriously appreciate the lack of preservatives and other added junk often found in dehydrated meals. If you require gluten free, grain free, milk free, soy free meals, or just prefer all natural ingredients in your food, these meals might appeal to you as well.

Paleo Meals to Go offers four different meals; Summit Savory Chicken, Mountain Beef Stew, Cliffside Coconut Berry and Palisade Pineapple Mango – all packaged in resalable, lined paper bags that are easy to pack in and pack out. The meals can be cooked “stove top” or straight from the package with the addition of boiling water. I chose the latter option for a less-mess, easy clean-up option and had no complaints other than the occasional sticky fingers (hand, really) from digging deep into the pouch to scoop out dinner. (The packaging suggested cutting down the bag to a smaller size after cooking in it. I should have listened.)

Paleo Meals to Go

Summit Savory Chicken: There are a ton of ingredients in this one, like: chicken, green peppers, onions, spinach, broccoli, asparagus, mushroom and spices. This meal has great flavor, but I found it a little dry (especially compared with the Mountain Beef Stew). I tried adding a bit more water, but it didn’t seem to change the texture of the chicken much.

Mountain Beef Stew: This one tastes like home cooking – I could hardly tell it was Paleo or came from a package of freeze-dried ingredients. The garlic-infused blend of beef, onions, mushrooms, carrots, celery and spices were savory and delicious. Make sure you shake the package well before you add water or you’ll get huge pangs of the garlic and salt.

Cliffside Coconut Berry: This was a nice change from my usual backcountry breakfast of instant oatmeal or dehydrated eggs. With the same consistency of hot porridge, the coconut flakes, almond flour, nuts and berries cooked together into a super-sweet breakfast that stuck to my ribs. The fruit rehydrated really well, which was impressive.

Palisade Pineapple Mango: Another fruity breakfast option, this meal has great texture from the pineapple, mango and banana. It smells amazing, and certainly tastes better than plain ol’ oatmeal – but that’s what sugar does. (Editors Note: Paleo Meals To Go pointed out that while the meals are high in sugar it is naturally occurring sugar from the fruit. There is NO sugar added to any of the Paleo Meals To Go menu items.) I also loved the addition of flaxseed, which is a great source of fiber.

Bottom Line:

Paleo Meals to Go taste great – especially the Mountain Beef Stew. They are lightweight, take up very little pack space and are ridiculously easy to make. The lack of preservatives, gluten and other non-paleo ingredients are a huge plus. The flavor of the meals was as good or better than other freeze-dried meals I’ve taken into the backcountry, but at a price point of $13 per meal, it’s not something I could commit to for regular backpacking trips.

If you would like to try out Paleo Meals To Go  for yourself, be sure to use the coupon code SBM5 to receive 5% off of your order! 

Tech Specs:

Date available: order now online at paleomealstogo.com, new options including Bedrock Beef Chili, Canyon Chicken Chili and Apex Fruit Snacks coming soon.

MSRP: US $12.99/package

Dimensions: weigh 3-5 oz./package

Top 8 Safety Tips for Winter Camping

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Photo by Mt. Hood Territory Flickr.com

Top 8 Safety Tips for Winter Camping

Winter camping can be an incredible way to enjoy the wilderness year round – but there are inherent and hidden dangers. Adequate planning and preparation will help your next winter excursion be safe and enjoyable. Proper clothing and equipment are important, as is your behavior in the backcountry. Don’t be so focused on reaching a summit or a stopping point that you put yourself or others at risk.

Consider the other people in your group and communicate honestly about concerns. Be aware of your body, stay dry to stay warm and constantly take inventory of your surroundings. Following these top 8 safety tips for winter camping and using sound judgment will keep you walking in a winter wonderland.

 

Top 8 Safety Tips for Winter Camping
Photo by Mt. Hood Territory Flickr.com

1. Location, location, location. Make sure everyone in your group has a good map and route description even if using a GPS device, which can fail. An altimeter is another good tool for determining location – but like all tech tools; they’re no good if you don’t know how to use them. Plan your route in advance and familiarize yourself with the trail. It can be hard to see where you’re going in flat light and snow conditions. Be cautious when following someone else’s trail – it might not be the same route you were planning to take and could lead you astray. *Note: If you do get lost, stay calm. Stop and evaluate your surroundings. Make yourself easy to find by wearing your brightly colored hats and jackets and making noise. Packing a whistle or a mirror to reflect sunlight is wise. Stay put and stay together.

 

2. Danger zones. Stay out of avalanche areas. Even if you are trained and equipped to deal with a slide, the best approach is to avoid dangerous cornices and avalanche zones all together. If your route passes bodies of water, be extremely cautious about crossing frozen rivers. Keep in mind, you may not be able to see them under snow. Refer to your map to find a safe, direct way around them.

 

Top 8 Safety Tips for Winter Camping
Photo by Matt Hosford Flickr.com

3. Home, safe home. Be aware of shortened daylight hours during the winter and give yourself ample time to reach camp during daylight. Look for tent spots that offer protection from wind and are out of avalanche fields. Get familiar with the area during the daylight so you can find you way around once the sun goes down. Stay in the sun as long as possible to keep warm. Always follow Leave No Trace camping ethics.

 

4. Prevention is the best medicine. Hypothermia occurs when the body’s temperature decreases due to exposure to cold conditions. To prevent hypothermia, stay dry – which will keep you warm. Stay hydrated and well fed. Symptoms include shivering, inability to speak or communicate clearly, and lethargic movement and can be remedied by changing into dry clothes and increasing intake of hot foods and fluids. By sharing a sleeping bag with a hypothermic person, you can transfer body heat they desperately need. This can be fatal and should be treated very seriously.

 

Top 8 Safety Tips for Winter Camping
Photo by kris krüg Flickr.com

5. Ten fingers, ten toes. Frostbite is also a risk in extremely cold temperatures. When skin on the fingers, toes, the nose or face is exposed to freezing temperatures, feeling can be lost and amputation may be necessary. If you experience symptoms like numbness, shivering, white or purple skin and a burning sensation in affected areas, warm the frostbitten skin against warm skin on your (or your partner’s) stomach or armpits. This will bring warmth back to the appendages at a safe rate. Holding a cup of warm water can also help, but do not use fire or friction to warm the skin. This is a serious condition that needs immediate medical treatment.

 

6. Dehydration ain’t no joke. Even in the dead of winter, you need to drink plenty of water. Check the color of your urine to gage your hydration level. The paler the color, the more hydrated you are. Headache and dizziness, dry mouth, muscle craps and confusion are signs of dehydration. Resting and drinking ample amounts of water can help to regulate your body back to normal. This, too, is a potentially fatal condition and should be treated as such. *Note: Water filters do not work in sub-freezing temperatures and chemical treatments like iodine take longer to work in cold water. Melting snow is a good option during winter months when lakes and rivers are frozen.

 

Top 8 Safety Tips for Winter Camping
Photo by Howard Kang Flickr.com

7. Flying high. Altitude sickness can occur when you experience a rapid increase in elevation and your body does not adjust at an equal rate. Climbing more than 1,000′ a day is not recommended. If you experience nausea (which can lead to dehydration), severe headache, dizziness, insomnia, shortness of breath, body ache and loss of appetite, get to a lower elevation as soon as possible, and stay there until your body regulates.

 

8. Keep it clean. There are some hygiene practices that we tend to leave behind when we head into the wilderness – that’s part of the great escape – but sanitary bathroom practices should not be one of them. When nature calls, make sure you are at least 200’ feet away from any campsite or water source. Pack out your toilet paper and other sanitary waste products in a zip-lock bag. If the snow is too deep to dig a hole to bury waste, invest in a sanitary bag that will stifle odor and turn your waste into gel. Then you can pack it out. Enjoy!

Planning and Packing for Winter Backpacking

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Photo by MIKI Yoshihito Flickr.com
Loren Sztajer
Photo by Loren Sztajer Flickr.com

For those willing to brave cold temperatures, don multiple layers and take a few extra precautions, winter camping can be an incredible way to enjoy the peace and beauty of a snow-covered wilderness – sans crowds. Whether you head into the winter wilderness on foot, snowshoes, skis or a split-board, following these pre-trip tips on planning and packing for winter backpacking will set up you for success.

 

Photo by MIKI Yoshihito Flickr.com
Photo by MIKI Yoshihito Flickr.com

Prep Work

Winter outings have a unique set of challenges – from shorter days to severe weather – and require careful planning to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip.

  1. Know where you’re going, how long it will take you to get there and when you plan to return. Whether you’re going solo or with a group, let someone back home know the details of your plans.
  2. Check road conditions and the weather forecast for possible storms and weather warnings. Be prepared for changing conditions.
  3. Avoid avalanche areas. Even if you’re trained to respond to an avalanche, check the local avalanche forecast, and don’t go out if avalanche danger is high. Keep in mind that avalanche forecasts may be general and not accurate for specific areas. If you are on or near any slope greater than 20°, your group should have formal avalanche training. The Northwest Avalanche Center is a great source for condition reports if you’re going into avalanche territory in the PNW.
  4. Be prepared for the unexpected. Take extra food and clothing in case of a change in plans. This will keep the unexpected from turning into an emergency.
  5. Test your gear. If you’ve been storing gear since last winter or are using gear for the first time, make sure it works. Test it and get familiar with it before you’re on the trail.

 

Dress for Success

The key to enjoying an outdoor winter excursion is to stay dry. Being dry is being warm. Choose materials that wick moisture, dry quickly, insulate and are waterproof. Wear layers that are easy to add or remove. If you have extra space in your pack, take extras of the items most likely to get wet like socks and gloves.

  1. Stay away from cotton base layers. For the layers touching your skin, stick with merino wool or a synthetic like polyester that will soak sweat and moisture off of your body.
  2. Keep body heat in by insulating. Fleece pants and jackets are great choices designed to keep you warm. Keep in mind that these layers are not wind or water proof and should be covered by a third layer when needed.
  3. To keep your midlayer dry while keeping wind out, you’ll need an outer shell. Choose waterproof over water-resistant and look for breathability. Zipper vents are a plus. Even in winter temps, you can overheat if you’re working hard and heat can’t escape. The outer layer, or shell, is your waterproof/windproof/breathable layer. If you’re outer layer has a hood and high-zipping collar, you’ll have added protection from the elements.
  4. Having proper footwear is the number one way to stay safe while trekking through winter wonderlands. Proper waterproof mountaineering boots will keep your feet warm and dry, prevent frostbite and general misery, as well as give you sure footing on icy or wet trails. Test your boots with the socks you plan on wearing to avoid blisters and ill-fitting boots. Pack extra socks in case one pair gets wet or just too smelly. If you’ll be moving through deep snow, gaiters will keep snow out of your boots.
  5. Wearing a hat will keep your whole body warm. Use waterproof gloves or mittens with a fleece liner to keep your hands and fingers protected from cold temperatures, snow and wind. Frostbite is not something you want to invite along on your trip.

 

Photo by Perfect Zero Flickr.com
Photo by Perfect Zero Flickr.com

The Essentials

Your pack may be feeling loaded down from all the extra winter layers you’ve packed, but don’t skip out on including these essentials. It’s better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it. Most likely, you’ll need these five items.

  1. Sun protection is often over looked on winter expeditions. But the sun is extremely powerful even in winter months, especially when reflected by the snow. Wear sunglasses or goggles (which provide wind protection as well) and keep up with sunscreen and SPF lip balm.
  2. Hopefully, you’ll stay safe and healthy on your expedition, but having a first-aid kit with you is extremely important. You can buy readymade kits, or assemble your own – just make sure you include supplies to treat blisters, bandages, gauze pads, medical tape, antibiotic ointment, ibuprofen and antidiarrheal meds.
  3. Hydration is equally important during winter camping as it is under the hot summer sun. Carrying at least 1 full water bottle and a container that can be filled from a water source or snowmelt later is essential. Keep in mind: rivers and lakes may be frozen, preventing access to running water. You will need a water purifier like a filter or iodine tablets. You can also use a pot to boil water (or melt snow).
  4. You’re going to get hungry – that’s what happens in the woods. The good news is, everything tastes better in the backcountry, and, because you’re using extra energy, you get to eat extra food! Make sure you plan for ample calorie intake, lots of protein and ample energy-giving snacks. Pack an emergency stash, just in case.
  5. There is less daylight in the winter, so you’ll be relying on your headlamp and flashlight more often than usual. Cold temperatures can also zap batteries, so make sure to bring extra. Keep the extra batters somewhere warm so they don’t drain before you use them.

 

Photo by Alex Indigo Flickr.com
Photo by Alex Indigo Flickr.com

Gear Up

Winter camping requires season-specific gear along with a unique skill set. Having the right equipment to protect yourself from the elements is key to enjoying the trip rather than just enduring it.

  1. You’re going to need a durable, sturdy and comfortable backpack for lugging your gear – and since you’ll have extra gear during winter camping, you may need a higher volume pack than usual. If you are carrying skis, snowshoes or a split board, make sure you can safely secure them to your pack. A waterproof cover is also a good idea, in case of wet snowfall.
  2. On longer winter trips, pulling a sled is a good way to carry more gear (not on your back) and get a bonus extra workout. A sled will only be viable if the trail has a solid snowpack and no dry patches. If you haven’t pulled a camping sled before, make sure you talk to an experienced guide beforehand.
  3. Use a sleeping bag that’s rated at least 10 degrees lower than the coldest temperatures you plan to be exposed to. If the weather is supposed to stay around 30°F, you’re best bet is to have a sleeping bag rated for 20°F. Down filling is the most popular choice, just make sure it doesn’t get wet.

TAMAGEAR Saddleback Midlayer Jacket Review

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TamagearSaddlebackMidlayer_1454

TAMAGEAR Saddleback Midlayer Jacket

In Colorado, we have a saying about the weather: If you don’t like it, wait five minutes. The dramatic weather shifts require a lot of layering. I’m always peeling off, adding on, and then peeling off again. The search for a midlayer that keeps me warm but is still flexible, breathable and durable led me to give the TAMAGEAR Saddleback Midlayer jacket – a jacket that’s marketed as keeping you warm while maintaining a fashionable flair for everyday wear – a try. I put their claim to the test, wearing this jacket solo and layered up. And while I’m less concerned with fashion and more concerned with function, this jacket is “mainstream” enough to wear to the office in between outdoor use. But it’s on the trails and in the backcountry that this jacket really does its work.

I found the Saddleback to be cozy and comfortable like my favorite cotton hoodie, but it has the benefit of being moisture wicking and breathable. Breathability is hugely important for me in a midlayer. Chances are I’m going to be wearing this under a wind/rain shell in the backcountry or even a heavy ski jacket during the season and, while I hate to be cold, I hate to be suffocating even more. And for someone who sweats as much as I do (sorry, gross), the breathability of this jacket is much appreciated, especially when I wear it by itself on early morning hikes and runs – which is where I used this jacket most often.

TAMAGEAR Saddleback Midlayer Jacket

However, when I do layer up for colder, windier days (think those blustery, horizontal winds above tree-level or in the back bowls) my two favorite features on this jacket come into play. Number one: thumb holes. There is nothing more frustrating than having to grip the opening of your sleeves in a weird, backwards fist to keep your midlayer jacket from sliding up your arm and bunching at the elbow when you throw on your outer shell. With the thumbhole-totting Saddleback, it’s a non-issue – and if you’re sliding on gloves, no issue there either. Plus, there’s just something extra comfortable about feeling all tucked in your sleeves. Which, on my long-lanky frame (I’m 6 ft. tall) are plenty long enough, thank goodness. The sleeves also have a handy wrist pouch that’s a great place for your ID, a car key or some cash. There are also some seriously deep pockets inside the jacket that are roomy enough for a pair of light gloves, your phone or even a small snack.

TAMAGEAR Saddleback Midlayer Jacket

My second favorite feature, though it’s a close second, is the high-zip collar and hood. The hood is attached outside the collar, so when I zip it all the way up, I don’t have to be wearing the hood and things are still snug. The zipper has a great little chin guard that protects from pinched skin and cold metal zippers touching your neck. This is huge when layering or when you just want to keep out the chill without having a hood bunched up around your neck. When I do use the hood, I’m glad it’s wide enough to offer some real protection from the elements, but doesn’t fall down over my eyes and block my vision.

I’ve found that, despite getting damp from perspiration and precipitation, I don’t have to throw this jacket in the wash every time I take it out for a spin. The material airs out nicely on the drying line and seems to stay smelling fresh after about 3-5 wears. I have tossed this jacked in the washer and dryer probably 10 times by now – and NO pilling on the outside. The inner lining has lost a tiny bit of its first-wear freshness, but the outside is still as smooth as ever. This point alone may be what sets this midlayer just above my go-to, forever-favorite fleece zip-up.

A major bonus about this jacket – and all TAMAGEAR products – is their lifetime limited warranty and repair guarantee. That means, if my jacket is damaged by any failure in manufacturing, even after extended use, they will repair the product, without charge, or replace it if needed. I like a company that stands behind their products and is apt to repair when possible. This makes the $149.00 Saddleback Mid-layer a worthwhile investment and a year-round favorite.

Bottom Line:

I would definitely recommend this jacket to anyone looking for a warm, comfortable midlayer this winter.

 Tech Specs:
Date available: now taking pre-orders, expected to ship Nov. 2014
Manufacturer’s Website: http://www.tamagear.com/products/jackets/saddleback/
MSRP: US $149.000
Materials: 94% polyester, 6% spandex
Dimensions: n/a (size medium)

Backpacking Storage Tips for Three Essentials

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IMG_3319

Backpacking Storage Tips

Of course it’s more exciting to talk about getting outside and using our gear, but whether it’s due to a change in season or the onset of Monday, gear has to be stored between trips. The way you store your gear and how you treat it after each use will have a major impact on its longevity. Bonus – it will be super easy to grab and go the next time adventure calls. Here are a few backpacking storage tips for three of the essentials.

 

 

 

 

1) Hiking Boots

Backpacking Storage Tips

Nothing feels better than kicking off your boots at the end of a long trip. To ensure your favorite pair last as long as possible, invest 10 minutes into their care at the end of each trip. When the obvious dirt has been shaken, scrapped or clapped off, use a boot brush (or tooth brush) to clean them with warm water and a mild dish soap. Skip drying them in front of the fire or under the hot sun and let them dry naturally or by a fan. This will keep them from drying out and getting brittle. Soak up any extra moisture by stuffing them with newspaper. Condition and waterproof your boots a few times each year to keep them refreshed. If your boots come home a little stinky (it’s okay, mine do too) you can toss a few herbal tea bags inside to combat the odor (dryer sheets work well, too). Store your boots indoors in a dry place – keeping them in a shed or garage puts them at risk of becoming a home for creepy, crawly critters.

 

2) Tents

Backpacking Storage Tips
Photo by Zach Dischner Flickr.com

Making sure your tent lives long and prospers starts at the campsite. Even if you use a footprint underneath, avoid pitching your tent on roots and rocks and instead find a space that has even, clear ground to call your temporary home. Not only will you sleep better, you will prevent unnecessary wear and tear on the bottom of your tent. Make a habit of taking off your shoes before entering your tent to help keep dirt and debris at bay. Make sure to sweep and shake out your tent before packing it out.

When you get home, unpack your tent to make sure it’s completely dry before storing it. This may mean setting it up in your living room, back yard or porch for a night, but the alternative is worse. Storing a wet or damp tent will lead to an untimely end – and some horrible smells. Once your tent is dry and clean, tuck it away in a dry location with mild temperatures.

 

3) Sleeping Bags

Backpacking Storage Tips

First thing’s first – hang your bag inside-out somewhere to air out. Even if your bag didn’t get wet (we hope it didn’t) it needs the fresh air to help eliminate any odors and dampness. If you have the space, store your bag like this whenever it’s not in use. If you can’t hang your bag to store it, keep it in a light cotton sack (like a laundry bag or pillow case) – NOT the compression bag you use to pack it.

If your bag does get wet, air drying is the safest way to get rid of mold and mildew-causing moisture, but it does take some time. If the time between uses is short, you can toss your bag in the dryer on the air-dry cycle or very low heat. Pause the dryer every so often to make sure the bag isn’t heating up to a melting point. Be cautious of zippers and metal tabs that can heat up while in the dryer. Near the end of the cycle, throw in a (clean) pair of shoes or boots or a few tennis balls to keep the filling from clumping up. Need a quick fix between trips? Hang your back inside-out outside and spray it down lightly with an unscented fabric refresher (think Febreze). Whip away any places where the moisture from the spray has beaded, and let the bag dry in the open air.

 

So the next time you walk in the door sunkissed and dirt covered, exhausted from having left it all on the trail, crack open a cold beer and take a hot shower – then, do yourself a favor and spend a little extra time with your gear. You’ll thank yourself the next time you’re ready to head out again. Be good to your gear, and it will be good to you.

Helpful hint: When storing gear in bins or boxes, add a few dryer sheets. Not only will they absorb any unpleasant odors you brought home with you, but the fresh scent will keep you feeling clean on the next trip – even if you haven’t showered in a few days.

Just Add Water: Three Easy Backpacking Meals

in Food by
Photo by Matt Matches Flickr.com

After a full day in the wilderness, the last thing you have energy for is cooking an elaborate dinner. But, hiking to or around your campsite is sure to work up a big appetite. Without the option to call for take-out, here are three quick and easy backpacking meals you can rely on to fill you up without taxing your end of the day energy supply. With a little pre-planning, these three meals have only one step: just add water. The added bonus? Clean up is a breeze.

Easy Backpacking Meals
Photo by Matt Matches Flickr.com

Loaded Potatoes

Instant mashed potatoes are a great way to fill up on comfort food. Add in a little dried gravy mix, bacon bits and chives. If you’re planning to chow down on this meal during the first day of your trip, you may even be able to get away with packing in a little fancy cheese. This quick fix gets a gold star for packing light.

*This dish makes a great side to fresh-caught fish cooked over an open flame (caught with a permit, of course).

 

Easy Backpacking Meals
Photo by OakleyOriginals Flickr.com

Trail Mix Oatmeal

Whether you choose to bring the pre-packaged individual servings or a big bag of quick oats, both will result in a thick, tasty cereal that will stick to your ribs for hours in the backcountry. Just add boiling water and stir. For added protein and flavor, sprinkle in some of the dried nuts and berries left over from your trail mix. Have a sweet tooth? Add a scoop of peanut butter and a few chocolate chips for a melt-in-your mouth peanut butter cup flavor. Stir in a toasted marshmellow for a seriously sweet late night treat around the fire.

 

Tuna Noodle Casserole

Ramen noodles get a bad rap for being overly processed, but if you ditch the flavor packet before you go, you’re saving yourself from a lot of unnecessary sodium and crud. The plain noodles cook quickly in boiled water. Drain the excess water (away from camp) and add in a package of tuna, chicken or salmon. You can find all three in easy-open foil packets that are lightweight and easy to pack out. Chili flakes or your favor hot sauce will seal the deal on this easy meal. (Hint: the little packets from Taco Bell are great!) If space and weight aren’t an issue, a can of peas can up the caloric intake and flavor. Bring everything you need for this meal in a Zip-lock bag that can double as a sealable trash bag for the hike out.

Easy Backpacking Meals
Photo by OakleyOriginals Flickr.com

Helpful hints:

  • Anything you can find at the grocery store that is dehydrated can make a great addition to “just add water” meals– but watch out for over-processed products high in MSG.
  • If something you purchase comes in heavy packaging, see if you can break it down into smaller Zip-lock bags that can be reused and recycled. They are much easier to pack and you will have less trash to worry about in the wilderness.
  • Keep in mind, when you’re in the backcountry the only calories you should be worried about are the ones you haven’t eaten yet. Your body needs tons of extra energy when you’re hiking, climbing and exploring the wilderness.
  • Enjoy the fact that everything tastes better when you’re camping, and don’t be afraid to eat enough to keep your energy high. Stay fueled with added proteins like tuna, nuts and peanut butter.

9 Steps to Plan an Overnight Backcountry Trip

in Community/Skills by
Carefully consider each item you put into your pack and ask yourself if it’s necessary. An extra water bottle may take up unnecessary space if you’re packing a filtration system that can be used at water sources along the way.

One: Choose your team. If this is your first time on an overnight backcountry trip, it is important to consider with whom you will be experiencing this. While overnight in the backcountry can be some of the most fun you’ll have exploring the wilderness, the experience can often test your temperament and your ability to react to unpredictable circumstances. It can be beneficial to go with someone who is more experienced. They can share their knowledge from being in the field. However, keep in mind that in the backcountry, you are responsible for your own safety and well-being. Be careful not to rely too heavily on your partner. If you aren’t the only newbie in the group, great! You can all experience a wonderful first together. Whether you travel with a group of first timers or a seasoned pack of pros, the key is to communicate early and often about each member’s expectations and responsibilities.

Nine 3

Two: Choose a destination. Deciding where to go for you overnight backcountry trip can be the most exciting part of the backpacking experience. It can also be the most confusing. If you’re starting from scratch, doing a bit of online research can help give you an idea of where you might be headed. Stopping by a wilderness outfitter to pick up a guidebook or chat with local experts are great ways to nail down the best trek for your trip. It’s helpful if you can decide what type of terrain you’re looking for (wooded, dessert, alpine) and keep in mind your ability level. Understand the millage you’re committing to and how your stamina can be affected by carrying a 30-pound pack. For beginners, a one- or two-night trip is the best way to ease into overnight backpacking. Once you’ve chosen a route, get your hands on a map of the area and get comfortable using it. Consider any necessary permits you may need to camp or have a fire in the area.

Once you’ve chosen a route, get your hands on a map of the area and get comfortable using it. Consider any necessary permits you may need to camp or have a fire in the area.
Once you’ve chosen a route, get your hands on a map of the area and get comfortable using it. Consider any necessary permits you may need to camp or have a fire in the area.

Three: Get in shape. Even if you are physically fit, overnight backcountry trips can require you to dig deeper than you have before. Before the big trip, prepare your mind and body with day hikes that challenge you with their terrain, elevation gain and distance. It may be a good idea to complete a few hikes with a full pack. This will help your body get comfortable carrying the necessary weight.

Four: Gear Up. To make sure you don’t find yourself up a creek without a paddle… or a stove… it’s a good idea to make checklist of the gear you’ll need for your overnight. There are many reliable lists online, but some basics to consider will be a tent, a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, water purification system, cooking wear, appropriate clothing and food. It’s also wise to include a first aid kit. If traveling in a group some items can be divvied up to lighten your load. While it’s important to be prepared, try and think light. Carefully consider each item you put into your pack and ask yourself if it’s necessary. An extra water bottle may take up unnecessary space if you’re packing a filtration system that can be used at water sources along the way.

Carefully consider each item you put into your pack and ask yourself if it’s necessary. An extra water bottle may take up unnecessary space if you’re packing a filtration system that can be used at water sources along the way.
Carefully consider each item you put into your pack and ask yourself if it’s necessary. An extra water bottle may take up unnecessary space if you’re packing a filtration system that can be used at water sources along the way.

Five: Dress the part. No matter what time of year you embark on your overnight backcountry trip, it is important to pack the right clothes. Avoid cotton clothing whenever possible. Whether it gets wet from rain, snow or sweat, it takes ages to dry and can cause problems. Dressing in layers can be a great way to keep warm or cool depending on the changing weather. Convertible pants that zip into shorts are a great idea. Whether rain or shine, be prepared for the changing conditions that come with the wilderness. Wearing the right footwear is also essential for any serious backpacking. With the added weight of your pack, having a supportive sole and secure footing is more important than ever. Investing in a good pair of hiking boots or shoes is a great idea – just be sure to break them in before your big trip. Blisters can really put a damper on the experience. If you have room, throwing in a pair of sandals will be a nice treat for your feet once you’ve set up camp.

Six: Meal planning. Keep it simple. Anything you can cook simply by boiling water is a great choice. Remember, you have to carry in anything you plan on eating. The good news is that your pack will be lighter on the way out. Save time and keep your energy up with high protein, high energy, ready-to-eat foods like jerky, trail mix and dried fruits. Whatever you pack, don’t leave it exposed to the elements or the animals. Many backcountry areas will require you to store you food in bear canisters or hang it out of reach.

Seven: Leave no trace. The wonderful part about trekking into the untamed wilderness is the natural beauty you are sure to experience. Help to preserve that for other visitors and generations to come by having fires only in designated areas, packing out all trash and being careful not to disturb native plants or animals. While you’re there, keep your noise level down. Enjoy the quiet and preserve it for others nearby. Remember, the wilderness can also be dangerous. Be ready to adapt to the unexpected in a world without cell phones, running water or do-overs.

Eight: Before you go. Days before your first trip, it’s smart to do a trial run. Get dressed in what you plan to wear on the day of your trip and pack your pack as if you’re heading out the door. Practice setting up camp – even if that means there’s a tent in your living room. Check the batteries on your flashlight, the supplies in your first aid kit and make sure your sleeping pad has no leaks. Make sure you to leave your itinerary and expected return date with a trusted friend back home. If you don’t return on time, someone needs to know.

Nine: Have fun. Keep in mind that is why you’re doing this. There may be moments when you’re wondering what you got yourself into, but take a deep breath, look at the beauty around you and enjoy where you are. Be proud of yourself for your willingness to explore the unknown. With the right planning, spending a night in the wilderness can be an amazing experience.

There may be moments when you’re wondering what you got yourself into, but take a deep breath, look at the beauty around you and enjoy where you are.
There may be moments when you’re wondering what you got yourself into, but take a deep breath, look at the beauty around you and enjoy where you are.
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