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SunRidge Farms Trail Mix – Product Review

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SunRidge Farms
SunRidge Farms Trail Mix, a fueling adventure. Photo by S.B. Patlan

Fueling outdoor adventures with calories is usually a bland task occasionally punctuated with a minimal spice kit and your choice of hot sauce.  Nothing is more of a staple in outdoor adventures than a bag of trail mix.  In 16 years of outdoor excursions, I have tasted many types of mixes that were all pretty much the same; nuts, M&M’s, and the occasional dried fruit.  Earlier this summer, I was able to try several new mixes by SunRidge Farms.  They pride themselves on environmental sustainability, variety of flavors and quality, but are not widely distributed.

SunRidge Farms takes sustainability seriously.  Their products are non-GMO, both USDA and International Quality Assurance certified organic, kosher, fair trade certified and come in reusable packaging.  Even their distribution center is run on the energy of 2500 solar panels.  This is clean eating for the conscience.  I tried three of their regular mixes and two custom mixes on a variety of outings such as long distance cycling, rock climbing and hiking.  The regular mixes were well balanced with dried fruit, nuts and seeds.  Seeds are a great source of nutrition and not found in many mixes. Their trail mixes often include roasted and seasoned nuts and seeds to spice things up such as tamari roasted almonds.  However,  the real story lies in their seasoning options.

When you customize a mix, that is where things can get really interesting.  I tried a number of exotic spicy and sweet flavors from New Mexico Chimayo Red Chile Lime Cashews, which were actually spicy, to Dark Chocolate Sea Salt and Turbinado Sugar Almonds.  The best things I tried was a Pomegranate Coconut Chew.  Think of a cube twice the size of a sugar cube made out of coconut with pomegranate seeds in the middle.  I would serve that at a dinner party for dessert.

SunRidge Farms
The goods from SunRidge Farms. Photo by Kelley Goetz

The catch is that SunRidge products are not widely available.  They are only available at Whole Foods Markets and Simply Bulk.  There is a wide array of products available online, but they are also only sold in bulk. The verdict: it is worth finding a Whole Foods to check out simply because of the range of flavors you can get in a trail mix and the sustainable way in which it is produced.  For someone that ventures out regularly the online bulk option is appealing and what I plan on doing since I have already eaten all of my samples.

EcoZoom Dura Rocket – The Ideal Base Camp Stove

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This nifty cast iron stove from EcoZoom is called the Dura Rocket.  The compact and durable Dura Rocket might become the ideal addition to your next base camp adventure, or simply a new way to experience cooking in your own back yard.

EcoZoom Dura Rocket
The versatile EcoZoom Dura Rocket is a great addition to any base camp.

Utilizing biomass fueled heat (dead tree branches/ yard clippings/ wood chips) the Dura combines an abrasion-resistant and… wait for it…durable 10 cm ceramic combustion chamber, which allows for internal mixture of gas and flame, thus decreasing harmful emissions for eco-friendly and energy-efficient cooking.

The ceramic combustion chamber’s interior is reinforced with a protective refractory metal liner, which increases combustion efficiency as well as the overall life of the stove. The Dura Rocket comes complete with installation sockets for a “stick support”, allowing the user to feed oblong items into the chamber as they burn down, as well as a reinforced metal door frame for increased convection.


EcoZoom Dura Rocket
Small, but packed with features, the EcoZoom Dura Rocket is a base camp workhorse.

The Dura Rocket is completed with a three-pronged chip-resistant cast iron top, which is sturdy and stable enough to handle a superfluity of pots and pans. Also, should there be any need for movement whilst the stove is burning or still warm, the stove is equipped with strong stainless steel silicone-gripped handles.

EcoZoom Dura Rocket EcoZoom Dura Rocket

The EcoZoom stands at a little over 11″ tall, and just under 11 inches in diameter; it weighs 13lbs and can be purchased at EarthEasy for 99.95. You may also consider coupling this carrier bag, for greater ease of transport.

Adventure Medical Kit – Product Review

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Adventure Medical Kit
Adventure Medical Kit, this compact versatile kit gives you all you need to handle minor outdoor emergencies. Photo by S.B. Patlan.

Earlier this year, I completed a Wilderness First Aid (WFA) certification. I took the course to better equip myself to handle the inevitable blister, falling rock, bug bite or broken bone that many of us face in the backcountry. While the course was helpful in providing some of the basics for safety in the outdoors, I realized my “do it yourself” hodgepodge of a First Aid Kit, was woefully inadequate. Enter the Adventure Medical Kit.

The ultralight and watertight kit weighs only 8 ounces, and fits into the top of my backpack where it is easily accessible. The bag is also completely waterproof, which is critically important for any hiker in the Pacific Northwest. To keep the kit dry, there are two layers of protection with the medical supplies stored in a DryFlex liner inside of a silnylon layer. The two systems work well, but having two layers to open your kit can be a nuisance if you’re trying to quickly access your pack.

Adventure Medical Kit
The Adventure Medical Kit two bag system ensures that your supplies stay dry even in the worst weather. The kit comes with all the necessary supplies for most First Aid emergencies. Photo by Kelley Goetz.

On any trip, you never want to use your First Aid Kit, but if you do, this one should have you covered for the most common injuries, scrapes, aches, and pains. I am confident this medical kit will improve my ability to help myself or others should my WFA skills be needed.

The kit includes over the counter pain medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, antiseptics, antihistamines, gloves, and a lot of bandages for orthopedic injuries. It even includes things that would be helpful in your Emergency Repair Kit (always remember your 10 Essentials) with safety pins and duct tape. I wish the moleskin were a heavier gauge, but that is a personal preference.

Fear and Loathing on the Yellowstone River Trail

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yellowstone river
On the Yellowstone River Trail you have to be ready for anything. Here, even the weather is trying to kill you. Photo Source:


The thought “Well that title’s a bit dramatic” probably crossed your mind. Just wait, it gets worse.

Backpacking the Yellowstone River trail ranks among one of the most terrifying and exhilarating backpacking experiences of my life.  It was my first time in Yellowstone, and I was about to realize what I’d signed up for.

yellowstone river
Backpack for scale. Would my pack become an artifact on the Yellowstone Valley like these antlers?

Before even setting out on a backcountry trail in Yellowstone, backpackers are required to attend a 20-minute orientation, or what I like to call “100 ways you can die in Yellowstone”.  You sit in a small room with anywhere from 10-30 other prey – er, backpackers – and watch an informational video. Set to 90s-era music, the inspirational voice instructs you to fear everything from the large predators (who want to eat either you or your food), the large herbivores (who might trample you if they think you’re a threat) to even inanimate objects such as the swift river currents (try not to swim) and wild weather conditions (it’s hot then it’s cold). Yes, in Yellowstone even the weather wants to kill you.

I left the orientation a lot more intimidated, but really none the wiser. How far did I need to stay away from a grizzly again? What about buffalo? (Turned out, that would come in handy later.) We gracefully packed up our equipment in the Mammoth Springs parking lot as the clouds brimmed with rain. I was too busy contemplating the approximate hunger level of Wyoming grizzly bear populations to notice a fellow tourist pull into the parking spot that occupied my spread of backpacking supplies.

We’re experienced Northwest backpackers from Seattle, so of course we pretty much broke every basic rule of backpacking in Yellowstone right off the bat.

Yellowstone River
The swift moving Yellowstone River after a sudden squall.

By the time we got to the Hellroaring Trailhead (the less popular Yellowstone River Trail access point) we only had about two hours of daylight left. The plan was to hike fast and find our campsite before dark. If the inspirational video had taught me anything, it was: “Don’t go hiking at dusk. That’s when the predators are most active.” Well, that wasn’t happening.

Five minutes into our trip, we broke out of the skeletal pines to catch a first view of the Yellowstone Valley. Spectacular, wild, vacant. I stumbled over rocks and roots as I my eyes soaked in the monumental plains. Countless tacky adjectives and metaphors fogged my tourist mind, right up until I noticed a great white sheet of rain approaching us at an alarming rate. We heard the wind howl through the canyon below as a squall tore across the valley, headed straight towards us. Be ready for any weather, we thought as we threw on our rain gear and headed down into the valley.

As the squall passed and the rain blew by, sun drenched the Yellowstone Valley with a spectacular strain of orange light. We hadn’t seen a soul since we’d given directions to two lost hikers. We could literally see for miles around; nothing but the distant shapes of buffalo and herd animals moving across the grassland. It was a bit unsettling for a Pacific Northwesterner that’s accustomed to being socked in by trees.

I’d never felt so intimate with the word “agoraphobic”.

yellowstone river
Alone in the wilderness on the Yellowstone River Trail.

I really was overcome by a feeling of isolation I’d never really felt before. With the “How to Die in Yellowstone” documentary still fresh in my head, I knew that if we screamed no one would hear us. Well, we’d hear each other screaming at least.

As I fantasized some morbid and dramatic premature end to our trip my partner–impervious to my fatalistic fantasies–stopped dead in his tracks. That worried me.

I looked up.

A great black orb, about as big as the average Seattle Subaru, lumbered towards us. Colorful language ensued. (Mostly verbs and adjectives.)

I’d seen pictures of buffalo before, but when you’re nearly face-to-face with one, you notice things a bit differently. The horns look sharper. The hooves can surely shatter bones. The dark oval eyes: malevolent. The stench smells like deceased hikers.

We backed away slowly, trying to remember the details. Were we supposed to make eye contact? Avoid it? Were we supposed to stay 15 meters away or 25?

As we stumbled backwards off the trail towards the sulfur stench of the Hellroaring River, the buffalo followed. It snorted as it walked down the trail. But to me it flared its nostrils as it stalked us into a corner. Smelling the blood. Trying to prevent any means of escape. Ready to attack. I was pretty sure we’d found the first carnivorous buffalo, but wouldn’t survive for the nature documentary.

But of course that wasn’t the case. The buffalo kept wandering down the trail. As he passed, he didn’t even give us an acknowledging glance. He lumbered away, snacking on tufts of grass here and there. He didn’t so much as flick his tail at us.

Finding camp in the open spaces of the Yellowstone River Trail.

We booked it after that, through the close-knit pine forest, down a narrow trail punctuated with buffalo patties. Every stump and shadow looked like a grizzly bear. As we made our way back into the grasslands, I wondered what monstrous creature I’d find on the other side of each knoll. We traded cautious glances with the deer and antelope as we made our way through the wild landscape. Bones and antlers punctuated the prairie like exotic plants, stained orange in the setting sun.

Finally, as the sun slipped behind the trees, we set up our tent on a plateau in the only small patch devoid of bones, antlers, and buffalo patties.

I could only imagine what the second day would offer on the Yellowstone River Trail.

Read Part Two


Outdoor Retailer 2016 Editor’s Picks – Outdoor Retailer Inspiring Stories

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Read about the best Outdoor Retailer inspiring stories and learn how these companies are disrupting an industry. Photo Source:

There are thousands of vendors at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market exposition.  And while it is easy to get lost in the crowd, some companies are so unusual that it is impossible not to acknowledge their positive disruption of the outdoor industry.  This week, Seattle Backpackers Magazine reviews four outdoor retailer inspiring stories and how these companies are changing the world for the better.


Outdoor Retailer Inspiring Stories
Photo courtesy of nuun.

nuun.  On the outside, Seattle based nuun (pronounced noon) is an electrolyte replace and hydration company.  nuun packs a complete electrolyte profile in a small tablet that is dissolved in water and supports active lifestyles.  Electrolytes play a key function in maintaining fluid balance, preventing muscle cramping, and aids in muscle contractions and movement.  Most electrolyte powders or pre-made drinks are packed with sugar, the innovative effervescent technology, plant-based ingredients, and lack of sugar in nuun makes it a disruptive force in the outdoor and sport performance market.

On the inside, nuun is just as disruptive.  From organizational culture to a well-developed social conscious; nuun shakes things up…sometimes, literally.  The organization embraces what CEO Kevin Rutherford describes as the nuun life.  The nuun life recognizes the individual and social benefit of activity and is dedicated to an active lifestyle in and out of the office.  This dedication takes the form of supporting employee activities outside the office and 5-minute workout sessions three times a week during the workday called the five minutes of fitness.

Outdoor Retailer Inspiring Stories
The staff and wonder dog Yukon at nuun taking five minutes to live the nuun life during work. nuun’s five minutes of fitness fosters social bonding and creativity while reducing stress and encouraging healthy living. Photo courtesy of nuun.

Social responsibility is a big part of the way nuun operates.  The nuun principles include clean product, clean planet, and clean sport.  The company supports socially conscious causes like The Conservation Alliance and other pro-green initiatives with financial donations from sales and volunteerism.


Outdoor Retailer Inspiring Stories
Photo courtesy of MiiR.

MiiR.  MiiR, another Seattle based company, makes outdoor bottles, bikes, and bags.  The company’s flagship store is in the trendy Fremont neighborhood known for microbrews and a giant troll that lives under the Aurora Bridge.  The products are elegantly designed, functional, and rugged. From the camp cup to the food canister to vacuum insulated bottles, MiiR has high quality containers for every aspect of your outdoor life.  MiiR also features a line of bikes for kids and adults.  The bikes are commuter style bikes great for getting to the office or a slow Sunday morning coffee crawl.

Outdoor Retailer Inspiring Stories
MiiR’s flagship store is also a coffee and beer house. Photo courtesy of MiiR.

Besides great outdoor products, what makes MiiR truly inspirational is the company’s commitment to making the world a better place to live.  Every MiiR product funds a trackable giving project as part of the product to project program.  The program is unique in corporate giving and allows customers to fully understand the impact of their purchase.  Simply register the MiiR product online and enter the product tracking code and you can track where and what project your purchase is supporting.  MiiR gives five percent of revenue annually to different giving projects around the world focusing on water, education, and bicycle projects.  These ventures have led to 55 water projects, over 4,500 bikes given, and the building of a school.  Come down to the Fremont store and enjoy a handcrafted Counter Culture Coffee or one of over 25 beers currently on tap and see what MiiR is doing to make the world a better place.


Outdoor Retailer Inspiring StoriesSherpa.  The character, strength, and generosity of the Sherpa people have made the exploration of the Himalayas possible.  The bravery and heroics of Sherpa guides is legendary, as is the economic challenges of the people.  The company Sherpa makes adventure gear for the exploration of the wilder places on earth.  The gear is designed and tested for Sherpas by Sherpas in one of the most extreme environments imaginable.  From trekking to alpine climbing, the gear is made to be bombproof, functional in movement, and provide state-of-the-art thermal and cooling qualities.

While the gear is amazing, the story behind the gear is what makes Sherpa one of the outdoor retailer inspiring stories.  The company was founded by Tashi Sherpa, nephew of Ang Gyalzen Sherpa, one of the original Sherpa on Sir Edmund Hillary’s famous Everest expedition in 1953.  Tashi Sherpa’s goal was to create economic stability and opportunity for the Sherpa that supported the recreational industry in Nepal and often lived in poverty.

Outdoor Retailer Inspiring Stories
Tashi Sherpa’s daughters are now guiding the business. On the right is Pema Chalmatsang-Sherpa and on the left in the green is Tsedo Sherpa-Ednalino, Chief Operating Officer. Photo by dutch franz.

Now, Tashi Sherpa’s daughters Tsedo Sherpa-Ednalino and  Pema Chalmatsang-Sherpa guide the company and employ over 1,000 skilled women to hand-knit many of the company’s signature products.  The company focuses on keeping things local, a large portion of Sherpa’s products are designed and manufactured in Nepal.  In addition to the economic opportunity Sherpa fosters, the company also supports the Paldorje Education Fund.  This educational fund allows disadvantaged Nepalese children living in remote villages the opportunity to attend school.  Find out more about how you can help support the scholarship fund and Sherpa’s innovative commitment to rural economic development and sustainable manufacturing at the Sherpa website.


Outdoor Retailer Inspiring Stories
Bedrock Sandals Co-founder Dan Opalacz and Chief Experience Officer Naresh Kumar. Photo by dutch franz.

Bedrock Sandals.  This Richmond, California company believes in big adventure and simple living.  Bedrock’s innovative materials and minimalist design is genius, giving you just what you need to explore the world.   Co-founder Dan Opalacz started making sandals while living in his VW van traveling the country in search of great outdoor adventures.  Co-founder Nick Pence is chief designer and heads Bedrock’s 1% For The Planet environmental non-profit.

The sandal design takes a disruptive approach to traditional footwear concepts.   Bedrock’s goal is to harness the natural human-inherited flow of movement.  They attempt to do this with a zero drop sole profile as well as creating a sole platform that provides comfort and grip across terrain without unnaturally forcing your feet out of alignment.  Bedrock attempts to design footwear to mold over time to your individual foot profile, not the other way around.  The sandals reflect the founders’ vision of harmony and simplicity.

While Bedrock’s sandals are innovative, it is the company’s commitment to simple living and building an awareness of social responsibility that makes it one of the outdoor retailer inspiring stories.   Many companies have corporate giving or sponsorship programs, but few show the personal commitment that Bedrock shows to making a difference in the world.  This philosophy is personified in Naresh Kumar, Bedrock’s Chief Experience Officer.  Naresh left a high paying software engineering job in Palo Alto to live the simple Bedrock life and raise awareness for social justice issues around the world.  Taking this mission and Bedrock sandals on the road, Naresh trekked 3,800 miles through five countries and three continents.  The herculean effort included a stretch of 280 miles on a broken foot.  The efforts of Bedrock and Naresh helped bring much needed attention to the issues of human trafficking and the economic exploitation of vulnerable populations.  Few companies are willing to put so much skin in the game to live their values.

Outdoor Retailer Inspiring Stories
A well-worn Bedrock sandal from Naresh Kumar’s 3,800 mile three continent trek. The ballistic insole of the sandal was rubbed bare by Naresh’s foot. Photo by dutch franz.


Elite DriDown Hoody

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Finally, a down jacket that is dressed to impress on the trail; not just the city sidewalk.

Avid outdoors enthusiasts flock to down coats because of their exceptional compressibility and impressive warmth-to-weight ratio. However, the age-old issue with down has been that it’s useless when wet. Sierra Designs offers a DriDown alternative that excels in the Northwest’s rainy and humid weather. Fit for summer and winter trips alike, you’re probably not enjoying your hiking or backpacking trip to the fullest until you’ve tried their Elite DriDown hoody.


Like most jackets, I recommend getting a size up. If you’re using the Elite DriDown hoody in the outdoors, more room to move will help you enjoy your trip. Although I’m 5’6’’ and typically wear small shirts, I tested a Medium. It fit perfectly to accommodate athletic use with light layering. I recommend following Sierra Design’s sizing chart, it won’t steer you adrift! Arm length is generous (34.5 inches, but who’s counting) to accommodate reaching forward or up above your head with thumbs in the thumb holes. Unlike a few competitor jackets I’ve tested in the past, the Elite DriDown Hoody won’t shortchange you in length.

Elite DriDown hoody
The Elite hoody in its natural environment.


The Elite DriDown Hoody is fitted for function rather than fashion. With a back length of just over 26 inches, I could pull the coat comfortably down to my upper thighs to keep out the chill. Unlike the fashion-focused jackets, the Elite DriDown Hoody features a subtle elastic waist that prevents it from riding up when seated. Sorry, fashionistas — functionality over fashion is always a win in my book.


In typical Sierra Designs style, the manufacturer slips in a few clever features. The generously sized thumb holes are lined with stretch nylon flaps that seal the hole when not in use. This means no chilly breezes down your sleeve when you’re not using the thumb holes. The fitted hood is lined with a knit nylon fabric for a comfortable, moisture-reducing contact against your forehead and chin when fully zipped. The hood is fully convertible, and can easily be tucked down inside itself to form a draft-resistant collar. This adaptable feature makes your Elite DriDown hoody ready for even the most intense adventures.

Elite DriDown hoody
Draft-free thumb holes and fitted sleeves for increased insulation.


One of the biggest benefits of the Sierra Designs Elite hoody is that it features 850 fill power duck DriDown. If you aren’t familiar with DriDown, here’s the rundown: it’s a backpacking game changer. DriDown is conventional down that is treated with a molecular-level polymer to give each individual down plume a hydrophobic finish. This allows DriDown to stay dry 10 times longer than regular down and dry faster than your conventional down jacket. If you hike and backpack in a wet area like the Pacific Northwest, this can make the difference between a fun or miserable trip (and it could even save your life). To seal the deal, the nylon ripstop is treated with a polyurethane finish for additional water resistance.

The Test.

I put the Sierra Designs Elite DriDown hoody through an extensive series of tests that all started with the same letter, but wildly ranged in activity and utility: biking, boating, and backpacking. From the Palouse to the North Cascades, from land to lake, the Elite hoody didn’t get an out when it came to testing.

Biking: The Sierra Designs Elite hoody followed me on a week-long road biking trip up the rural roads of Eastern Washington. Even in the desert and Palouse, warm days result in cold, humid nights and mornings. The Elite hoody stayed dry and warm throughout the trip, and remained my go-to source of warmth when even my fleece was saturated. Those who are interested in bike camping can rely on the Elite hoody’s packability.

Backpacking: When it comes to the mountains, Elite hoody is unarguably in its element. The Elite DriDown hoody weighs in at around 11 oz and packs down to about the size of a 20-oz water bottle. With its 850DriDown fill, this small jacket packs a punch when it comes to warmth. Ultralight and ultra compact, the Elite hoody is an essential for any Northwest backpacking trip.

Elite DriDown hoody
The Elite Hoody’s relaxed fit makes it easy to move, no matter what you’re doing.

Boating? No, not the sophisticated kind. I took the Elite DriDown hoody along on a 22-mile overnight canoe trip that mostly consisted of fighting downwind currents or paddling against gusts of winds as the rain closes. Not picturesque at all. Let’s just say that the Elite DriDown hoody was about the best decision I made on that trip. With its hydrophobic down and water resistant nylon shell, I felt comfortable using the hoody without a rain jacket. The DriDown allowed a semi-saturated jacket to fully dry out within two hours. Because I could rely on it to dry quickly, I find the Elite hoody to be a reliable comfort (or survival) tool in my pack. In the Northwest, it’s arguably one of the ten essentials.

Elite DriDown hoody
I may be incapable of making fire the old fashioned way, but the Elite DriDown Hoody will keep me warm nonetheless!

Final thoughts.

Before reading my final recommendations, please keep in mind that I run cold. Because the hoody is designed to be light and compact, the Elite hoody can suffice as a main layer for late spring-early fall, depending on elevation. I estimate it to keep me warm down to about 50 degrees. While I designate it mostly as a summer backpacking coat, I do think that the Elite DriDown hoody is a great jacket for year-round layering. Pacific Northwesterners can rejoice in its hydrophobic nature and resilience to nature. If you’re looking for a light, compact and completely functional down jacket, I recommend adding the Elite DriDown hoody to your arsenal.

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

Backpack Kayaking – Alpine Lake Adventure

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backpack kayaking
Crystal clear Summit Lake; backpack kayaking lets you explore remote alpine lakes. Photo courtesy of Mary Taunton and Nym.

As we trekked down the path, the rain created an eerie setting. We’d gotten a late start on our backpack kayaking trip and the sky was rapidly darkening as we scrambled over and under trees that had fallen across the trail. Between blinking the rain away, our eyes struggled to find footing for our feet that wouldn’t result in a twisted ankle. Onwards and upwards we went, the wind making our raincoats ineffective at keeping our heads dry.

Nym nimbly navigated the terrain and gloried in the refreshing downpour—she was truly in her element. Having done this trail the previous year, I was shocked at what a difference the storm could make to the setting.  Somehow, the frolic I’d had through the flower-lined footpath paled in comparison to the ominous, slushy stomp we were having now.  The darker conditions suited the trail so perfectly and despite being cold and tired, we were having the time of our lives.

backpack kayaking
Adventure dog Nym always ready for the next backpack kayaking trip and a chance to explore the woods. Photo by Mary Taunton.

By the time we arrived at the lake, it was so dark that we just had to assume there was water filling the dark hole in the horizon off to our left. We skirted around the edge and walked up onto a dry bank to pitch our tent. The second we had our poles in place, the wind gusted a mighty blow that nearly swept our tent out of our hands and off the cliff.  Cold and determined, we staked it firmly into the dirt and hastily put on the rain cover before shedding our drenched outer layers and climbing inside the inviting tent. We barely had tucked ourselves into our sleeping bags before falling fast asleep.

As the sun began to send warm rays of light into our tent, we woke. Peering outside, we were thrilled to see that the rain had gone and it was becoming a gorgeous day. The morning fog hung about us but was quickly being dissolved by the heat of the summer sun.

Now was the part we’d been waiting for, our first glimpse of the lake. It’s a rather unique experience to wake up and be surprised by your surroundings. I had been here before and knew what to expect, but this was a new destination for Llew, and I was stoked to see his expression when he spotted the shimmering blue lake. His face lit up like a kid at Christmas as we scrambled down to the beach. Knowing that there was a further surprise for him 30 yards further, I told him to not look back until we reached the right spot. As he spun around to see Mount Rainier looming behind the lake, he was astounded by how large it looked compared to the view from Seattle or our other hikes in the area.

Deciding it was best to wait until it warmed up a bit more before taking our Advanced Elements Packlite Kayak out for a jaunt around the lake, we made our way around Summit Lake and up to the ridge line behind it.  Honestly, the view from the ridge is one of the most breathtaking in Washington. From the higher altitude, the lake positively glistens, the evergreen trees contrasting perfectly with the deep blue of the alpine lake.

We sat atop the rocky ledge and marveled at Mount Rainier’s incredible beauty. The bowl beneath us began to fill with clouds and we watched as the view became more and more obscured. It was such a peaceful setting, amplified by us being the only two people within shouting distance.

Finishing our breakfast of Clif Bars, we headed back down to our campsite to retrieve our kayak. We blew it up by mouth, having forgotten the foot pump, then hopped inside and pushed off from shore. Though not built for two, the kayak did remarkably well at carrying our weight as we paddled across the lake with Nym herding us from the shore.  The light weight indestructible Packlite is ideal for backpack kayaking in the Pacific Northwest.

As more people began to pop out of the tree line, we decided it was time to pack up and head to the nearest diner for some coffee and burgers. We made quick work of dissembling our campsite and then began the hike back down. After having the lake to ourselves on a Friday night/Saturday morning, we were happy to have braved the storm and avoided the hoards of hikers that we passed on the way out.  The shortness of the hike combined with the remarkable view, makes this hike a favorite destination for many, but we’d managed to have it as our own, private paradise.

backpack kayaking
Mary and Nym discuss heading home before the trail gets too busy with weekend hikers.  Follow Mary and Nym on more backpack kayaking adventures soon.  Photo courtesy Mary Taunton. 

If you liked this article, read about canoe camping beautiful Lake Diablo.

USAF 50 Summits Challenge – Honoring Those That Give So Much

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USAF 50 Summit Challenge
The USAF 50 Summits Challenge members practicing rope team skills on Camp Muir, Mount Rainier.   Photo courtesy of USAF 50 Summits Challenge.

Forget the tiny man-made Space Needle.  When it comes to the Washington State icon, one that can be seen from well over 100 miles away, we’re talking about Mt. Rainier.  For the 24,000 service members and employees on Joint Base Lewis McChord, which is less than 20 miles from the park, it appears bigger than life and is a dominating, perhaps even scary, monolith seemingly just outside the base fence line.  A perfect place for the USAF 50 Summits Challenge.

We couldn’t have a more perfect peak to look upon, for it not only encourages military members to dream and appreciate the beauty of nature, but it also represents a powerful metaphor we use to teach critical life skills: that daunting obstacles can be overcome with fitness, teamwork, and tenacity.

In light of the 22 veterans who commit suicide a day, the 15 years of continuous combat operations our military has provided, and the enhanced difficulties of a life serving the nation in uniform, I knew something more than our well-intentioned, but ineffective, computer based health training needed to be done to keep our service-members resilient.  So a group of military climbers and I turned to one tool we personally use to maintain our sanity and energy –  nature.  It is from this belief, that mountains and nature provide the perfect setting to practice resiliency, that the USAF 50 Summits Challenge was created.

The purpose of the project is to boost the mental, physical, social, and spiritual health of our service members through climbs of each American state’s highest geographical point.  Hikes and climbs offer a chance to interact with other service members, expand one’s comfort zone, and tackle a peak that often looks too big to climb- just like big life problems we each face from time to time.  Rather than wait for tragedy to strike and then reactively help a military member recover, we aim to “inoculate” participants through outdoor experiences so they are better prepared to cope with tragedy when it inevitably strikes.

USAF 50 Summits Challenge
USAF 50 Summits Challenge teaches positive mental health skills and resiliency through experience learning in nature. Photo courtesy of USAF 50 Summits Challenge.

That is why on a rainy July afternoon ten Air Force, Army, and Marine Corps members and veterans gathered at Paradise to carry the American Flag to the summit of Mt. Rainier as part of the USAF 50 Summits Challenge climbing team.  For many in the group, it was their first time climbing a snowfield or glaciated peak, which invited a hint of trepidation.  But the vision of standing together atop Rainier’s summit pushed them beyond their comfort zones and into a life affirming adventure.

I reminded the team that like life’s big problems, it’s best to break this climb down into smaller parts.  “Don’t get overwhelmed by the size of the mountain in front of us” I say as we gather.  “We’re taking it one step at a time, as a team, and we’ve got each others’ backs.”

Soon the group is making steady progress up the Muir snowfield.  And just as quickly as the sweat begins to form, so do the personal stories about life, the successes, and the on-going struggles.  On every peak I’ve taken military teams, I have seen how the combination of physical exertion, nature-based setting, and relaxed atmosphere leads even the toughest, most tight-lipped military vets to open up and share difficult, intimate stories of loss, hurt, love, and dreams.

Perhaps the openness comes from sharing a common goal that involves some level of risk or challenge, much like they felt during combat missions, that causes them to open up.  Maybe it is simply the spiritually engaged feeling of being among great beauty that does it.  Regardless of exactly why, I smile knowing those miles of hiking and climbing is a proven alternative to pharmaceuticals in many cases.

I’m a lucky climber to have a broad network of outdoor contacts that want to help get military members into the outdoors.  On this climb of Rainier, I was fortunate to have two members of Seattle Mountain Rescue join us, both of whom are also military veterans.  As a volunteer on Seattle’s specialized rescue team, I knew the addition of their technical expertise and calm demeanor would help ensure that our other climbers felt comfortable.   Little did I know that they’d be such great teachers, taking on the role of instructing our military climbers on how to self arrest, travel on a rope team, and use tools such as ice axes and crampons.  It gave me the time needed to melt snow and cook dinner for a dozen hungry climbers!

With full bellies, the safety skills necessary to function on a rope team, and a calm clear night, we left Camp Muir with eight climbers.  Two of our active duty participants made the choice to stay at Muir due to health concerns, which is a wise choice, since symptoms of altitude sickness or other problems only worsen with an ascent.  We teach that part of being resilient is to know when to turn around, recoup, and live to fight another day.

When we reached the summit, we took time for a military tradition: pushups to honor the fallen and to highlight the importance of physical fitness. But the one thing I will remember most is the look on our 63-year-old veteran’s face when he looked across Washington from the true summit.  I surprised him with a sip of Rainier beer- a little treat I packed up from the car.  He soaked in the accomplishment of overcoming this huge obstacle and then tears welled up in his eyes.  “This is one I’ll never forget.  A true highlight in my life.  So allow an old guy like me a few tears of happiness.”

USAF 50 Summits Challenge
Members of the USAF 50 Summits Challenge share an emotional celebration on top of Mount Rainier. Photo courtesy of USAF 50 Summits Challenge.

It’s moments like this I thrive on.  Even if it’s just one veteran; one service member at a time- it is making a positive difference.  Connecting people to nature, to a community they can turn to when the going gets tough, is a win for everyone.  And how lucky we are to have the perfect resiliency classroom towering 14,416 feet above us all.

If you’d like to learn more about the USAF 50 Summits Challenge, visit them social media or at their website  Learn more about the all-volunteer, non-profit Seattle Mountain Rescue at their website.

About the Author

Rob is a Queen Anne Hill and Mercer Island native.  He commissioned from the Air Force Academy in 2001 and served for 14 years as an Air Force Special Operations pilot, during which he flew the infamous CV-22 Osprey and other aircraft on a myriad of combat, humanitarian and clandestine missions throughout the world. In 2005, Rob created the first American military high-altitude mountaineering team.  His goal: get service members into the outdoors and promote healthy lives by climbing the famed 7 Summits- a feat no team had succeed in accomplishing.  His mission came to a successful end in 2013 when he led the team to the summit of Mt. Everest, where he set a world record for pushups on the top of the world.  Rob has traveled to over 41 countries seeking unique adventures and perspectives and speaks about the importance of taking smart risks, accepting challenges, and overcoming enormous obstacles with teamwork.  He now directs the USAF 50 Summits Challenge out of Issaquah, volunteers for Seattle Mountain Rescue and flies part-time for the Air Force Reserve as a C-17 Globemaster III pilot.

Outdoor Retailer 2016 Editor’s Picks – Main Floor Review

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Outdoor Retailer 2016
Outdoor Retailer 2016 Editor’s Picks from Seattle Backpackers Magazine. Photo by dutch franz.

The Outdoor Retailer 2016 Summer Market was a chance for some of the biggest manufacturers in the business to show what is new in the outdoor gear industry.  Read Seattle Backpackers Magazine Editor’s picks and get the inside scoop of what’s to come.

If you have never been to the Outdoor Retailer exposition,”OR” for short, then you can’t imagine the sheer size and volume of gear, clothing, and accessories available.  Being an OR virgin, I had not anticipated what I would find when I went to Salt Lake City for my first OR experience.  What I found was both inspiring and a little overwhelming as marketing and marketers attempted to define and shape the outdoor experience for profit.

The floor space at OR is mostly segregated by company size.  Large, or well-funded, companies have exhibits on the main floor.  Smaller companies, or companies that don’t want to spend the cash, have booths in pavilions adjacent to the main convention center.  This bifurcation of the industry seems like a natural place for me to segment my Outdoor Retailer 2016 Editor’s picks.  This review will focus on gear found on the main convention floor from mostly larger companies.  Since there is just way too much gear to conduct a comprehensive review, I will focus on gear that stood out as exceptional or unique.

Outdoor Retailer 2016 Editor’s Picks  

outdoor retailer 2016

Multi-Day Backpacking Packs.  Arc’teryx Bora AR50.  This pack is large, solidly constructed, and built to carry heavy loads a long way.  The revolutionary RotoGlide moving hip-belt allows the hip-belt to twist as your torso twists and moves up and down as you stride or ascend steep inclines.  The durability of the hard-plastic components is still suspect and needs testing, but the concept is revolutionary and could improve balance while reducing fatigue and lumbar and hip discomfort.  No other pack on the floor was thinking that far out of the box.



outdoor retailer 2016
Mountain Hardwear

Alpine/Mountaineering Pack

Mountain Hardwear continues to make the best expedition mountaineering pack on the market.  The South Col 70 OutDry Backpack is substantial and build to take a beating that only crampons and ice axes will give a pack.  The pack uses innovative OutDry construction that bonds a durable waterproof membrane to the main compartment so that your gear stays safe and dry in even the wettest conditions.  The pack keeps all the convenient features that mountaineers have come to expect and rely on.  My favorite feature is the outside reinforced crampon stash pouch.  This pouch allows me to quickly stuff my crampons into a pocket without fear of punching a hole through the pack, a simple design that has yet to be copied.


outdoor retailer 2016
Osprey Packs

Multi-Use Pack

Osprey leads the industry in versatile lightweight packs for trekking, day hikes, or trail running.  Osprey showcased a new ergonomic line of multi-use packs designed to be better fitting and functional on the move.  Osprey packs are full of features like Bio-Stretch technology, the Ergo-Pull hip belt, and the Airspeed suspension and spacer mesh harness system that will keep the load stable and comfortably positioned off your back while assisting in ventilation.  Many packs also include an integrate rain cover.  Osprey has a large selection of packs for all occasions, I recommend finding an authorized dealer and taking the time to find the right fit and features for what you like to do.


Outdoor retailer 2016
Hilleberg Tents

All-Season Tents

The best tents on the convention floor were made by Hilleberg.  Forget the more well-known tent manufacturers, Hilleberg makes the most bomb-proof, best designed all-season tents in the consumer market.  The tents are relatively lightweight and easy to put up, even in a storm.  The integrated rainfly allows you to pack-up the tent under the fly keeping the tent and you dry.  I also encourage you to take the Hilleberg challenge and try to rip a swatch made from the tent material. The swatches are cut nearly in half and you are challenged to try and rip the fabric further…good luck.


outdoor retailer 2016
North Face

Outdoor Clothing Systems

Nobody makes, or markets, an integrated outdoor clothing system like North Face.  From base layer to parka the North Face Summit Series uses high-tech material and design that ingeniously integrates each layer into a performance system.  Other expedition clothing companies attempt to integrate layers as well, but North Face simply does it better, and more importantly, they knew how to display it at the expo.  The Summit Series at the expo was on active manikins showing each layer as it would be combined and used in the outdoors.  Other manufacturers left the clothing on racks making it difficult to identify how the clothing systems worked together.  It may be only marketing savvy, but give it to North Face for helping customers understand how the clothing system is integrated into the activity.


Outdoor Retailer 2016
Garmont USA


Garmont is entering the U.S. market again with an innovative line of hiking and climbing boots.  The boot design breaks new ground with unique anatomical construction for greater comfort and performance.  Bigger toe boxes and heel lock technology add to comfort and the Intelligent Flex System accommodates natural forefoot flex and shin mobility.  Check out the entire line of hiking boots and fast hikers, Garmont has much to offer your outdoor pursuits.

Next week be sure to catch Outdoor Retailer 2016 Editor’s picks for the smaller innovative outdoor companies that are changing the industry.

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