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9 Hiking Tips for New Hikers

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Hiking Tips For New Hikers

Hiking is an excellent way to find adventure and connect with nature, while delivering multiple physical and mental benefits beyond scenery and fun. Just being outdoors in nature brings a sense of wanderlust and ambition for adventure, and there’s no better way to enjoy the great outdoors than hitting the trails. While hiking might seem straightforward, there are many unpredictable variables. Below are nine hiking tips for new hikers to help you prepare and avoid mistakes on your first trek in the back country while discovering your inner adventurer.







1. Become familiar with the trail you’re hiking.

Hiking Tips For New Hikers

Do your research and select a trail that’s a good fit for your first trek. Be sure to obtain a map of the area and review trip reports and data. There are some excellent online resources available. Things to look for: 1) Is the trail a loop, or an out-and-back where you’ll have to backtrack or spot a second car? 2) Study all intersecting trails where you could potentially make a wrong turn. 3) Read trip reports about a good lunch spot, such as a lake or summit with a view.


2. Choose the right hiking partner.

Hiking Tips For New Hikers

Hikers hike for many different reasons – some hiking faster, some slower or further, while some are training to summit large peaks. It’s really up to you. The beauty of hiking is that you get to do what you want to do. Plan a hike that is suitable for everyone in your party, and let the slower person set the pace.


3. Listen to your body – know your own physical condition.

Hiking Tips For New Hikers

Pace yourself and pick a pace you can maintain all day, remembering to take breaks when needed – breaks are a great time to take in the views and clean air. Some other tips include: removing layers before overheating, adding layers before getting chills, drinking often and eating regularly.


4. Packing 101

Hiking Tips For New Hikers

Carry gear that you feel will maintain your highest level of security. The goal is to pack the smallest, lightest, highest-quality versions of that gear (i.e., travel-size tubes vs. full-size).

A pocketknife, compass and whistle are at the top of the list. Don’t forget a first-aid kit, matches or a lighter and plenty of food and water. If you’re hiking in a cold climate, bring warm clothes. If you’re staying overnight, bring what you need for camping.


5. Dress for purpose and comfort.

Hiking Tips For New Hikers

Synthetics work best over cotton, as they help regulate your body temperature and dry quickly. Wear layers that you can add or shed when needed. Pack an insulting layer beyond what you think you’ll need, preferably something that will block wind, too.


6. Be kind to your feet.


Painful feet can ruin a hike. Invest in quality hiking shoes and socks. This doesn’t always mean 3- or 4-season hiking boots, as there are a lot of light hikers and trail sneakers available that provide plenty of stability and traction, depending on where you’re hiking. Invest in the right socks, and stay away from cotton. It’s smart to also pack blister dressings, just in case.


7. Tell someone where you’re going.

Hiking Tips For New Hikers

Leave your hiking plan with someone back home, and call when you get off the trail. It’s important that someone not on the hike knows the itinerary and what time to start worrying and call for help. Also a good idea is to carry an emergency device such as the SPOT tracker, which allows you to call for emergency assistance by satellite.


8. Embrace “Leave No Trace” Ethics.

Hiking Tips For New Hikers

The fascinating trails we love will only stay this way if we care for them. Take time to read the Leave No Trace Seven Principles and follow them. It’s up to every outdoor enthusiast to take care of our natural spaces. Using these open spaces is a privilege we need to keep available to others for many years.


9. The 10 Essentials

Hiking Tips For New Hikers

The 10 Essentials packing list was created to make sure that hikers were prepared and could respond with certainty to an accident or emergency, as well as remain safe if forced to spend one or more nights outdoors. It has shifted from a list of items to a list of systems. Get to know these systems, as you should pack them to insure safety in the back country, including facing a potential overnight. Depending on the details of your hike, expand or minimize each system. 

  1. Navigation (map, compass, whistle)
  2. Sun protection (sunglasses & sunscreen)
  3. Insulation (extra clothing)
  4. Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
  5. First-aid supplies
  6. Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candle)
  7. Repair kit and tools
  8. Nutrition (extra food)
  9. Hydration (extra water)
  10. Emergency shelter (tent/plastic tube tent/garbage bag)

Foot Care For Hikers

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Foot Care For Hikers
Photo by David Goehring

Every mode of transportation requires regularly scheduled maintenance. Why should a hiker’s feet be any different?

Let’s take a quick peek at the moving parts inside your hiking boots.

Soft tissues (muscles, ligaments, tendons) work together with bony tissues to create a flexible mobile weight bearing structure. Add lots of wrapping and binding materials (fascia and other connective tissues), plus miles of blood vessels and nerves. Cover it with waterproof stretchy skin. Throw in a few protective toenails, and you’ve got the biological device that carries you over hill and dale.

Just for fun, take a guess: How many foot bones do you possess?

26 bones/foot = 52, or 25% of all of the bones in your body!

Now estimate how many steps you take in an average hike, how much your pack weighs, and how many hours your feet are trapped in tightly laced footwear.

Beginning to see why foot self-care is a big deal? Regular preventive foot care will decrease the likelihood of foot problems and maximize your trail time. Check out these tips on foot care for hikers to make sure you’re preparing your body for the best possible experience on trail.

Try these proactive foot care strategies at home:

  • Pick up marbles and straws with your toes.
  • Walk barefoot on sand, grass and pebbles.
  • Try a foot reflexology path. (It will hurt the first time!)
  • Apply firm, sustained pressure to sore spots on toes, arches and heels.
  • Trim toenails before every hike.
  • Before bed, do ankle rolls in both directions to send oxygenated blood to your feet.
  • Ditch contortionist footwear forever: high heels, pointy toes, tight non-breathable shoes.
  • Don’t settle for “good enough” hiking footwear. Go for amazing.


Be proactive on the trail:Foot Care For Hikers

  • Wiggle your toes vigorously every few minutes. Boots too snug for wiggling? You need a half size bigger.
  • Sliding, bunching, pinching socks? Try a different boot/sock combo.
  • Remove your boots and socks at rest breaks. Pull on your toes. Elevate your feet to aid the return of blood and lymph to your heart.
  • To short circuit inflammation, plunge hot, swollen, achy feet into an icy stream, or use your bandanna or hat to create an impromptu cold pack from a snow field.



Swing into reactive mode for trail twinges, cramps and pain:

  • Don’t trudge onward without evaluating foot problems. It might be an easy fix: re-lace your boots, adjust your socks, or remove the pine cone from your boot.
  • Muscle cramps indicate electrolyte depletion. Your nutrition and hydration strategies might need some tweaking.
  • Don’t ignore hot spots or that “uh oh” feeling in your feet. Traditional hiker fixes for hot spots (not actual blisters) include duct tape, band aids and moleskin.
  • Blisters mean you’ve separated the top layers of skin from deeper layers, creating a nice little pocket for fluid to build up. Deal with a blister immediately with moleskin. To pop or not to pop? If you’ve got the supplies to do a clean job of it, popping might buy you some more trail time. Or it might buy you an infection with a deeply blistered area. Tough situational call.
  • Achy feet could be due to “fallen” or “high” arches. Supportive and sturdy hiking boots with custom fitted arch supports (orthotics) might make your feet happier on the trail.
Foot Care For Hikers
Photo by Douglas Scortegagna
  • Bruised, sore feet and toes indicate tight fitting footwear pressing on the underlying bones and soft tissues. Try bigger boots with thicker, more cushiony socks, combined with neatly trimmed toenails.
  • “Plantar fasciitis” or “painful heel syndrome” are chronic problems with your heel bone (calcaneus) and its fascia. Don’t keep hiking when this level of pain is sending you a warning message.
  • Swelling, bruising, deeper skin color, heat or pain (either statically or during motion) indicate muscle/tendon inflammation in your foot. Apply PRICE: Protection from additional injury, Rest (I know! You’d rather hike.), Ice (apply an on demand ice pack or snow/water soaked bandanna), Compression (ace bandage, loosely applied) and Elevation (not the trail kind).
  • Sudden problems such as a popping sound, inability to bear weight, lots of pain and swelling, or numbness, require aggressive short term PRICE, then medical attention.
  • Short term over the counter pain relief is a personal choice based on pre-existing medical conditions or prescription medications. NSAIDS (aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen) will relieve pain and swelling, while acetaminophen will suppress pain signals but not address inflammatory swelling.

Your trail happiness begins and ends – literally – at your feet. So send a little regular TLC their way.

7 Tips for a Successful Solo Trip

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Hiking and camping can be some of the most peaceful, and often spiritual, activities. It reminds us to open our ears to every rustling leaf and chirping bird, gaze at more than just the ground in front of our boots and return to the core of why we love carrying a heavy backpack through the woods. As simple as walking in the woods can be, though, hiking and camping alone requires an additional self and outer awareness that group members usually supply. Here are some tips for embarking on your first or hundredth solo trip.


1) Evaluate your experience and knowledge
Solo Trip

A successful solo trip relies heavily on past experience and knowledge. Before planning a solo trip, ensure you can navigate with a map and compass, treat a variety of medical issues, build a proper fire, efficiently use your gear and maintain your body without assistance from others. If you have any hesitations about your abilities, take another trip with an experienced friend and test yourself along the way.


2) Draft and share your plan

solo trip
Photo by Allison Wildman

Especially during an overnight or multi-day backpacking trip, the most basic step in emergency management is writing out a day-to-day itinerary and the GPS coordinates of each campsite to leave with a family member or friend. Then, set a date and time for when your emergency contact should notify authorities had you not returned or contacted them about extending the trip. This preventative measure could save your life following a debilitating injury, onset of disease or inclement weather.

As much as we would like to ostracize ourselves from technology on trips, carrying your cell phone or a satellite phone could also ensure your survival. Turn it off or on airplane mode to keep you disconnected and save battery.


3) Actively listen to your body

solo trip

As with any hiking venture, pace and hydration are key to successfully finishing the day’s mileage and maintaining optimal bodily functions. In a group, inevitable disparities in speed tend to regulate the group’s overall pace and time allotted for water breaks. Solo hikers, though, can settle into a trance or depth of thought that can cloud the mind-body awareness. This can increase pace to unsustainable levels, leaving the body overly exhausted to efficiently set up camp and complete the forthcoming days. It can also decrease pace to a level that could unnecessarily extend your hours spent hiking.

Hydration also requires an understanding of under and overconsumption, especially when others cannot point out the signs to you. Outdated jargon surrounding hydration advised athletes to drink as much as they could before, during and after exercise. Now experts advise drinking water with the expectation of losing up to two percent body weight and never gaining weight during aerobic exercise. This means not only recognizing signs of dehydration, such as a dry tongue, pruny fingers, strong headaches and the appearance of flashing, dark spots, but also not over saturating the body to the point where you are constantly peeing or, in extreme cases, develop hyponatremia.


4) Fully set up camp before pulling out your camping chair

solo trip
Photo by Joseph

After a long day of hiking, setting up camp by yourself might seem daunting and exhausting, and you will want to delay it until the cold starts to penetrate the heat your core has built. Don’t let the thought of the seemingly strenuous feat stop you from assembling those tent poles and collecting water for the night. When camping with a group, you can employ the ‘divide and conquer method’ to collect firewood, prepare dinner and purify water. By yourself, it takes a while, especially in the dark. So, as soon as you arrive at your campsite for the night, throw back a handful of trail mix, rehydrate and start on the night’s tasks.


5) Don’t skimp on firewood

solo trip

Depending on the quality of firewood in the area, you can burn through fuel quicker than you may imagine. And while that bundle of kindling and logs may look like it will last for another two hours, there’s a chance it won’t, and you’ll end up searching in the dark for more wood as your fire threatens to extinguish into a thick cloud of ash and smoke. So, when you collect firewood upon arriving at camp, overcompensate.


6) Bring activities

solo trip
Photo by Christopher Cotrell

Like the parent who totes around a beach bag full of coloring books, mini racecars and puzzle sets, pack enough activities to last you at least until the sun sets. For some, a book suffices. For others without the attention span to read over one hundred pages in a sitting, bring cards, a journal and, if small and light enough, portable speakers or an instrument.

As with food, layers and other camping amenities, balance sufficient entertainment supplies with a consideration for extraneous bulk and weight as you would with any trip, solo or not. So, swap the 600-page hardcover for a 200-page paperback.


7) Embrace solitude

solo trip
Photo by Rajarshi MITRA

Although hiking and camping can create unprecedented bonds between people, doing so alone reignites the bond we have with the outdoors that lured us into the woods in the first place. So, let your mind wander to places unknown without the fear of getting lost. And, of course, only panic if that noise outside your tent is growling.

The Case for Better Car Camping

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Car Camping
Photo by Felix Neumann

After reading a lot of articles recently about the decline of car camping as a recreational activity, I began to wonder why. This article addresses that question and makes a modest proposal for a new way to look at car camping.

Unfortunately, when it comes to quality camping equipment, the niche of car camping has not been properly filled. Sure, if you’re an avid backpacker, as I am, you have lots of quality options. Quilt vs. sleeping bag, gravity feed filter versus pump, tent versus tarp or alcohol stove versus pressurized. It’s easy to experience 900 fill down envy while in your 850 fill bag.

When it comes to car camping, however, you have: big box stores versus, well, big box stores; pvc air mattress versus memory foam; and, skin-so-soft lotion versus mosquito coils.

Why is that? Do we yearn for those days in our teens and twenties when the campsite flooded and the tent collapsed? Is it fond memories of waking up on a deflated air mattress that you just bought? Did that partially cooked hamburger taste any better because it was cooked on a dirty grill over an open fire?

Car camping doesn’t have to be an ordeal experienced once a year, filed under the tag “What the hell were we thinking?” and then left to mildew in your garage until next season.

What can be done?

Here is what you need to consider if you want all of the great benefits of camping (closeness to nature’s heart, low nightly price, get up and go freedom) without the downside of typical car camping.


  1. Be prepared to spend $825 – $1200 dollars for a full kit. This will seem like a large amount right off the bat, but it will pay for itself with reuse, and the quality of the experience will guarantee reuse. Spending half that amount for equipment that will fail, make you miserable and then never be reused is a false economy. In that regard, I wonder why inexpensive equipment makers foster their own demise by making such equipment. This might explain the decline in camping. I will detail below the categories of equipment you will need immediately and things you can add later.
  2. Take care of your equipment. After each trip, make sure your equipment is dry and clean before you store it. Store it in a dry place in containers for easy access for a quick weekend getaway. Before each season, take it out and make sure everything is still there and hasn’t been dipped into in the off season. Decent, quality equipment well-looked-after will last for years. I have tents that are over ten-years-old and that are still working well.
  3. Break your equipment into logical containers for ease of grab-and-go. There are many sturdy plastic commercial containers in a number of sizes that stack for easy packing. Buy a set, and use one each for your kitchen box, general gear and non-perishable food not in your cooler.


Car Camping
Photo by Eirik Solheim


  1. Tent pricing – A 4 or 6 person tent with the quality features below, at the time of this article, will sell for approximately the following:
  • 4 person – $350-$400
  • 6 person – $400-$550.

This will be your biggest single expenditure. If you want to look at this as a travel cost (without considering the advantages of camping itself), weigh that cost against a motel/hotel night, and you’ll see that it won’t take long to recoup your money. A rainy night where you get up and everybody else in the campground is soggy except for you also has its own rewards. Not that you’re gloating.

  1. Tent capacity – Tents are sold based on their apparent capacity i.e. 4 man, 6 man etc…. Manufacturers will over-claim so you think “Hey! We have 6 kids plus two adults so an 8 man is just the ticket and, look! It is only $250.” If you value your sanity do not – repeat – do not try to camp with 8 people in a tent. For comfort, divide the manufacturer’s claim roughly in half. Or use the formula 3=2, 5=3, 7=4. This will leave some portion of the floor unused for your inevitable gear and not just bodies lying down. I use an REI Kingdom 6 for my wife and myself.
  1. Tent features – A quality tent will have the following features:
  • aluminum poles not fiberglass
  • shock cording in the poles (stretchy cord that keeps the poles together)
  • taped seams that do not require additional waterproofing
  • good ventilation in the form of lots of screens
  • an available custom footprint (typically sold separately)
  • a fly that goes all the way to the ground instead of just the top
  • walls that are as near to vertical as possible to accommodate cots and make the interior feel larger
  • a storage bag that is big enough to be used easily rather than a tiny factory packed bag that makes it look small, but can never be used again
  • storage pockets inside for small items
  • an anchor point in the ceiling to hang a light or fan
  • good quality aluminum tent pegs
  • a back door and vestibule for bonus points
  1. Multiple tents – If you have a large family, consider more than one tent. The adults and small children can be in the main tent on cots, and the older children can be in good-quality two-person tents, on sleeping pads, on the same site. This means fun for everyone (what kid doesn’t love a tent!), you can keep tent quality up by spreading the numbers around and that smaller tents and mattresses can also double for backpacking trips.
  1. Knowledgeable retailer – Try to buy your tent from a retailer that understands tents. Big box stores will not be able to provide you with much advice and will likely not have detailed knowledge about what will be a seasonal product. The MEC in Canada and REI in the U.S. are examples of helpful stores. Reputable family tent brands include the MEC and REI brands, Eureka, Big Agnes, Marmot, North Face and Ticla, among others.


Car Camping
Photo by John Murphy


So, you’ve now committed and bought a quality tent that will protect you from the elements. A good night’s rest to go with that is next.

  1. One word – cots. Thinking back to your camping experiences, you will realize that the act of sleeping on the ground has been the basis for many of your less than fond memories. That tree root in your back after your queen mattress went flat, flopping your arm off the mattress when it didn’t go flat and splashing into a puddle on the floor, waking up to find you have migrated off your mattress in the night and, finally, trying to get up in the middle of the night from the floor without crawling over your tent mate.

The answer? Get a cot. This is where the big box retailers come in handy. Go to their camping section in-season, ignore the 28-person tent for $189 and the queen mattress with the self-inflating solar motor. Pick up a couple of folding camp cots, looking for the ones that are a little wider than the usual 29” (32” is good). They run about $50 each and will rock your car camping world.

You can sit on them to take your socks off! Getting up is like, well, getting up from a bed. They keep you off the uneven floor, away from potential water, and, because air flows under them, they are cooler in summer than an air mattress. They zip into their own bag, transport easily in a car and will get lots of use when the relatives come over on the holidays and on sunny days in the back yard. To make them extra comfy, put a thin sleeping pad on each as a bonus.

  1. Sleeping Bags – if you use a cot, you can bring a single sheet and a light sleeping bag that zips fully open and make-up a real bed. Summer camping doesn’t require much warmth, especially in a tent, which can warm up. To that end, synthetic fill bags are fine and much less expensive than down bags. Remember that, and don’t over do it by bringing a three season or winter bag. 10C rating for the summer is plenty. A sweaty night is an unhappy night. Cost: $50 – $100.
  1. Pillows – don’t forget them. This is car camping, after all.


Car Camping
Photo by m01229


Campfires are very romantic. Trying to make coffee in the morning over one is not. Get over the romance and set up a proper kitchen with a few basic items. Save the campfire for s’mores and late night fire watching.

  1. Stove – a two burner stove that folds into its own case is critical. Fuel options include white gas or propane, with propane becoming the standard. The one pound, green propane canisters are available everywhere. When comparing, look for the BTU rating for the stove and the size of the top surface. Where possible, buy a better quality stove if the price difference is not great, given that stoves have a very long life span. I am still using a white gas Coleman I bought 25 years ago and hope to upgrade to propane – if it ever quits! If your stove has an optional folding stand, buy it if you can, as it will free up picnic table space. Reputable stove companies include Coleman, Camp Chef and Primus. Cost will range from $100 to $150
  1. Kitchen Box – set up a separate kitchen box with dollar store or yard sale cutlery and utensils, such as a cooking knife, a big cooking spoon, a spatula, a small whisk, plastic plates, bowls and cups, coffee cups, a cutting board, a two liter cook pot, a frying pan and a coffee maker (I use a French press when camping and pack a plastic version to avoid breakage) and a thermos to keep coffee hot for late risers. For clean up, include a square, plastic container for washing dishes, dish soap, a scrubber and a drying towel. Don’t be tempted to stock this box from your own kitchen before each trip, as you will inevitably forget items and end up buying them at increased cost in some local town. The whole kit with everything shouldn’t cost more than $75.
  1. Cooler – make sure that it’s a good size. Critical features include a hinged lid and drain plug. Wheeled models might be useful on rough terrain. Putting items in square, plastic containers in the cooler (other than the ever important beverages) keeps them out of the water at the bottom and makes it easier to find things. Rinse it out and air dry it after each use to avoid the funky cooler problem. Cost: $50 – $75.


Car Camping
Photo by John Allen

Other Essential Gear

  • Lantern – get a propane lantern that uses the same fuel as your stove. Add a battery version for inside the tent. Cost: $50
  • Clothes line with pegs – don’t place it in a walk through area or you will take your head off. Trust me.
  • Camp chairs – many types available from most basic to really-amazing-footrest-included versions. Indulge your fancy in that department. Cost: $15 – $75
  • Hammer – for tent pegs and whacking moles if you encounter that typical camping problem.
  • Table cloth (plastic) for the picnic table – this small bit of gracious living makes a huge difference in the feel of camping meals. Pick up some table cloth clips at the dollar store to avoid a blow away.
  • Flashlights – one for everyone. You can get packages with multiple flashlights in them. Always buy so that they all use the same size battery.
  • Small piece of carpet for inside the tent door to catch dirt/sand
  • Dust Sweeper – for the tent floor


Optional Gear (can be added later)

  • Dining Tent – should be at the top of your next purchase list. Look for the same quality as your tent. It will be cheaper than a tent, as it’s more basic (no floor, no fly etc…). Especially nice to avoid the bugs. Avoid the bargain dining tents, as they typically last only two seasons, and then clutter up your garage forever. Cost: $250
  • BBQ – a small portable propane BBQ that uses the same fuel as your stove is handy. Look for one that folds up into its own case for cleaner packing. Cost: $50
  • Bedside table – when using cots, you will be raised off the floor leaving your glasses, book, a bedside light or clock on the floor. A small folding table is handy to address this. Cost: $20
  • Folding table – Full height. A handy item to expand your kitchen space or if the picnic table is messy. Cost $100
  • Ceiling Fan / light – Battery operated. I got one with a remote so I can turn it off from bed! Look for the lights that you put on backyard umbrellas. Cost: $25
  • Other appliances – the world of gadgets is endless. Examples are: toaster ovens, coffee makers, hot water heaters etc… If you consider these, look at getting gadgets that are compatible with the fuel you use.

The Basics for Two


Item                                                                  #                                  Total


Tent                                                                 1                                  $350 – $550

Cots                                                                 2                                 $100

Sleeping Bags                                                 2                                  $100 – $200

Stove                                                               1                                  $100 – $150

Kitchen Box                                                     1                                  $75

Cooler                                                              1                                  $50 – $75

Lantern                                                            1                                  $50


Total                                                                                                    $825 – $1200

Hitting the Road for Some Outdoor Photography Adventure

in Community/Skills by
Outdoor Photography
Tetons Rising by Matthew Torrie

It is my theory that in every backpacker there is a frustrated outdoor photographer dreaming of hitting the road and back trails to capture that one-of-a-kind shot of untamed America. Unfortunately, whenever I have entertained this dream, I always end up with more pictures of my thumb or with my camera submerged trying to get the ubiquitous waterfall shot. Hoping to get some pointers for the upcoming backpacking season, I tracked down local professional photographer Matthew Torrie for some helpful advice and to checkout his latest road-trip photos.

Pro Tip #1: Matthew says a landscape is different every time you shoot it, check the weather and think about the light. Sunrise and sunset usually provide some interesting light, as do storm clouds. Shoot for your surroundings; weather, time of day, subject. He recommends shooting right at dawn to two-hours after, then scout your next shot and start shooting again two-hours before sunset.

Pro Tip #2: Matthew says you have to get involved in the photo, “Many times I know it will evoke emotion, because the moment moves me. I want to bring that emotion to the people that view my photos; I want them to feel it like I felt it.”

Outdoor Photography
Antelope Canyon, Arizona. Photo by Matthew Torrie.

In 2013, Matthew hit the road to photograph some classic American landscapes and establish an impressive outdoor photography resume. Matthew toured the classics of western vistas: the Sawtooth Range, Jackson Hole, Moab, Monument Valley, Antelope Cannon, and Death Valley to name just a few of the highlights. The road-trip took 26 days, and Matthew logged over 7,300 miles; his secret for endless driving, packing heavy equipment and waiting for that perfect light? Red Bull and beef jerky. Matthew added, “The adventure of going places no one else was and getting the picture no one else has kept me going, too.”

Outdoor Photography
Horse Way: Vantage, Washington. Photo by Matthew Torrie

Matthew, originally from the Toronto area of Canada, has always been into the outdoors, but didn’t always plan on being a professional photographer. Growing-up, Matthew spent most of his childhood in the mountains and on ski teams, ultimately winning an international ranking as a ski racer. But five concussions in two years brought Matthew’s skiing career to an end before it really had a chance to take off. After leaving ski racing, Matthew went to school for business and engineering, but the wild expanses and big views he grew up with always called him back. The 2013 road-trip was a kind of defining moment for Matthew; a chance to fully commit himself to his art, his love of the outdoors and to his dream of being a professional outdoor photographer. Recounting a particularly difficult part of the trip where he was up 36 hours straight before finally passing out at the Death Valley Visitor’s Center, Matthew says, “it was difficult being creative on the road; I was putting pressure on myself to create something no one else had created.”

Outdoor Photography
Matthew Torrie took a 26-day, 7300 mile, Red Bull and beef jerky fueled adventure to take the perfect photo. Photo by Matthew Torrie

The creative energy spent during those 26 days paid off for Matthew, receiving much critical acclaim for his work. In 2014, Matthew’s photo, Tetons Rising, received two honorable mentions (nature and panoramic categories) in the International Photography Awards – Professional Class, putting Matthew in the same class as renowned photographer Jeff Mitchum, who also received honorable mention. Matthew’s photo, entitled Balanced in the Night, was a finalist in the Outdoor Photographer American Landscape competition and two photos received merit awards by the Professional Photographers Association. In addition, Matthew’s photos were featured in the 2014 Jackson Hole Art Show and, this month, his work will be exhibited in the Beverly Hills Art Show at Beverly Gardens Park.


Outdoor Photography
Balanced in the Night: Moab, Utah. Photo by Matthew Torrie

Pro Tip #3: For Milky Way shots, Matthew says, look for clear nights with a New Moon or plan to shoot after the moon sets. Moonlight will kill the shot.

Pro Tip #4: Matthew carries between 40-50 pounds of gear on a shoot. Two camera bodies, six lenses, multiple flashes, Cannon speed light, tripod and lots of patience. Matthew says the trick is to use a heavy tripod; when shooting long exposures, it’s critical that the camera remain stable in sometimes unpredictable weather conditions – a heaver tripod is worth the weight.

Outdoor Photography
Capturing the perfect shot takes the right equipment, preparation and patience. Photo by Matthew Torrie

Matthew recounts a moment in Badwater Basin, Death Valley. He got there, hiked in and set-up before anyone else had arrived. He said it was completely silent and the peaks just rose out of the salt flats before him… and then the sun rose. He said it moved him. It was a shot no one else was going to get.

And isn’t that the point?

Outdoor Photography
Badwater Basin, Death Valley. Photo by Matthew Torrie.

To check out more of Matthew’s work, go to MATTHEWTORRIE.COM.

Basic Tenkara Casting

in Skills by
Tenkara rod
Editors Note: Tenkara is the perfect companion on any backpacking trip. The rod and equipment is ultralight. The setup is quick enough that you can get your line wet even on high mileage days. It is beautifully simple, in fact the most difficult part is the cast. However, as you can see from this article it isn’t that hard. Follow the step by step instruction from Matt Sment at Badger Tenkara and you’ll be well on your way to catching an awesome fish! 

The basic Tenkara cast is a simple “overhand, back to 12 o’clock and then forward” motion that is very easy to learn. Lets break it down step by step so that you can become an expert at basic Tenkara casting:
1. As shown below, grip the rod with your index finger extended (or whichever way feels comfortable to you). Hold the rod in a relaxed manner that still allows for positive control of the rod.
Basic Tenkara Casting


2. Start with rod and line held in front of you at a 45 degree angle with the line hanging free
Basic Tenkara Casting


3. Begin the cast by drawing the tip up and backwards by flexing your forearm and wrist. Keep your elbow in place, held comfortably near your torso.
Basic Tenkara Casting


4. Stop abruptly when the rod tip reaches a 12 o’clock position.


5. Pause briefly to allow the rod to load the line’s weight. Depending on the rod and line, you may feel the weight shift as the rod loads.
Basic Tenkara Casting


6. Drop the rod tip forward in a smooth and consistent motion. Keep that elbow in place!
Basic Tenkara Casting


7. Check the cast abruptly at a 45 degree angle. Do not drop the rod tip as you would with a conventional fly rod.
Basic Tenkara Casting


8. Watch the line shoot forward and deliver a precise and delicate cast, then catch an awesome fish!
Additional tips:
Stay relaxed, and keep your motions smooth and consistent.
Don’t try to overpower the cast. Practice until you find the minimum amount of energy you need to throw the line and present the fly. Typically, putting too much force into a cast will spoil it!
For increased control of the cast, move your grip position to the top of the cork.
Basic Tenkara Casting


For increased sensitivity when fishing sub-surface, grip the rod from the very bottom
Basic Tenkara Casting
In our experience, the biggest problem that anglers who have spent time fishing with a conventional fly rod and reel have with learning the Tenkara cast is training themselves to NOT drop the rod tip. Remember, check the cast at a 45 degree angle! This allows you to maximize the rod’s ability to keep your line off the water.
Once you become comfortable with the basic mechanics of the cast, it’s easy to begin to apply it to less common casting angles. Be patient, spend time practicing and you’ll be throwing  great casts in no time!

What Maps to Take Hiking

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Photo by Rob

In a recent map & compass class, one of my students asked me what maps I carry into the backcountry when hiking or hunting. In this piece, you’ll get all of the info you need to learn what maps to take hiking on your next adventure.

I always carry a Forest Service map of the area I am passing through. Think of this as a regional map that covers a large area; the scale roughly 1:126,000. Though it doesn’t have tremendous detail, this map provides an overview of the main trails and key land features. This is a super planning tool for an outing. The image below represents a fraction of the Deschutes National Forest.

What Maps to Take Hiking
A Forest Service map of the Three Sisters Wilderness. Source: Outdoor Quest

Another option is a map made by Mytopo is a custom map maker. My personal map covers much of the area, as a Forest Service map would. I selected the scale, coordinate system (e., UTM grid), regular or waterproof paper and land area. My last order (2012) cost roughly $25.00 and arrived in about a week, folded flat like a AAA road map. The quality of the map was excellent.

The reason I carry a map of this scale comes from a lesson I learned during a major wildfire in Oregon. 30 plus backpackers were in the forest when the fire started and all evacuated to escape the fire. In such a situation, it would be nice to know what escape routes are available.

What Maps to Take Hiking

The mapping standard for hikers is the U.S. Geologic Survey’s 7.5 minute topographic map; commonly known as a topo. The scale is 1: 24000. This is the map that was once found in the map cabinet at REI and other major outfitters; not anymore. A topo is rich with details that include elevation contours, trails, symbols and colors. I no longer carry a true topo. A topo just takes up too much room for my needs.

What Maps to Take Hiking
A topographic map. Source: Outdoor Quest

That said, I still have lots of options.

I use mapping software such as National Geographic’s program Topo. The detail is the same as a USGS map. I have produced hundreds of maps such that the cost per map is negligible. offers an online subscription service called Map Pass. It costs $30 per year for as many maps that you can email or print. It’s versatile and offers different scales, coordinate systems and size.

Last fall, I learned of a free online program found at This is another excellent program. There is no manual for the program yet, but it’s pretty straight forward, and you don’t need to be a geek to figure it out. Spend thirty minutes searching and selecting various options – then, print a few maps. I like this program because I can select UTM grid as my coordinate system, and it also offers shaded relief for that 3D look to the printed product. Print quality is excellent.

What Maps to Take Hiking Map of Camp Sherman, OR. Source: Outdoor Quest

Gmap4 ( is another free online program that has been around for a number of years. It’s a great planning tool, but only has an average print capability.

Lastly, do visit the US Forest Service web site at There are lots of mapping options for hikers. Some maps are free. There are links to other sources as well.

Whether using an online product or software, printing is something I should mention. I generally use basic computer paper for day hikes in mild temperate weather. If there is any chance of rain, I switch to waterproof paper. I found National Geographic’s Adventure or Latitude 26’s paper on Amazon for $25 a box ($1 a sheet) to be quite versatile. My recommendation is to practice first with a piece of copier paper before printing on waterproof paper. If the ink smudges, the paper probably needs to be flipped to the other side, as only one side can be printed. Let it sit a while before stowing or folding. Some products require the use of a laser printer while most of us have ink jets. That’s okay, just be careful of your selection. I have maps in my day pack that I printed several years ago, thus the paper is fairly rugged.

Store maps in either a waterproof case or a ziplock gallon bag. Map cases are very rugged and will hold several maps. Most often I use a ziplock, one gallon food storage bag. I keep it inside my pack.

Should I use one map frequently, I might make one or two copies of the same map. I am fairly rough on my maps and frequent folding/unfolding weakens the paper to an extent. Having an extra map for a friend is a plus, too.

Top 8 Safety Tips for Winter Camping

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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

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

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

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

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

in Skills by
Loren Sztajer
Photo by Loren Sztajer

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
Photo by MIKI Yoshihito

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
Photo by Perfect Zero

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
Photo by Alex Indigo

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.

How to Get Fit on the Trail

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Get Fit on the Trail


Day hikes make great prep for your backpacking adventures by helping you build leg strength and cardio health. Leg strengthening is obviously important to sustain the repetitive movements of backpacking, but you need to balance it with upper body and core strengthening to be able to carry that heavier backpack. On your day hikes, you’re already working your legs – why not get your upper body and core done on the trail, too? Here are 8 great exercises you can do using a backpack for resistance to get fit on the trail. Start with a small, light backpack with the straps secured.


All exercises start as follows:
    • Chest open with shoulders retracted and depressed.
    • Keep abdominal contracted in.
    • Knees are soft.
    • Feet are hip width or wider.
    • Start slow and controlled, and build up speed and repetitions as successful.
    • Have fun!


Get Fit on the Trail


Squat to Twist
Targets legs, hips and core.
  • Push hips back into a squat position. Weight needs to stay on your heels.
  • As you stand up, shift your weight to your right leg.
  • Pull your left knee up as high as possible while twisting to the left. Your chest stays open.
  • Slowly lower the leg back down.
  • Repeat for 12-15 repetitions; switch sides and repeat sequence.
  • To make easier: modify by not going down as far into the squat or not balancing on one leg into the twist.
  • To make harder: stand on one leg the whole time (one-legged squat to twist).


Squat Toss
Targets total body.
  • Push your hips back into a squat position.
  • Powerfully push hips forward to stand up and toss the backpack in the air.
  • Pull your abs in 100% as you catch the backpack and lower back down into the squat.
  • This move is not about the arms – use your hips to power your toss.
  • Repeat sequence for 8-12 reps.
  • To make easier: don’t go down as far into the squat or don’t actually toss the backpack.


Chop & Lift
Targets total body.
  • Hold onto the pack sideways with arms straight.
  • As you lower into a squat, twist and “chop” the backpack towards your right ankle. Your weight needs to stay even on both legs with your chest open.
  • Come up to standing and rotate to the left as your lift the pack diagonally overhead. Your weight shifts to your left leg and you push your hips forward by squeezing your glutes.
  • Lower back down into your chop squat and repeat for 12-15 reps; switch sides.
  • Keep your abs in 100% – this exercise works the entire core.
  • To make easier: start with the pack close to the body and decrease your range of motion.
  • To make harder: keep arms straight throughout the entire exercise and increase your range of motion.


Back Row
Targets back.
  • Hold the backpack by a strap in one hand and stand in a staggered stance.
  • With your chest open and back straight, row your backpack up by pulling your elbow back towards your spine.
  • Slowly lower back down and repeat for 15-20 reps.


The next 4 exercises work smaller muscles, so you may need to lighten up your backpack.


Get Fit on the Trail


Upright Row
Targets shoulders and upper back.
  • Stand tall holding pack with both hands.
  • As you raise your elbows up, only go as high as you can without flexing your wrists or raising your shoulders.
  • Slowly lower and repeat for 12-15 reps.


One Arm Row
Targets shoulders and upper back.
  • Same as upright row, but more of a challenge with one arm.
  • Do 8-12 reps on each arm.
  • To make harder: Stand on one leg while performing rows.


Bicep Curl
Targets front of arm.
  • Hold pack with palm up as you bend your elbow.
  • Try not to let your shoulder drop as you curl.
  • Do 8-12 reps on each arm.
  • To make easier: Hold on to the pack with both hands as you curl.


Tricep Extension
Targets back of arm.
  • First, you need to make sure your pack is light for this exercise, or you can use your water bottle as a replacement.
  • Hold pack with palm up. Don’t let your elbow flare out to the side.
  • Raise arm up overhead and slowly lower back down as shown in photo.
  • Perform 8-12 reps on each arm.


As you get stronger, you can go through the first four exercises as a circuit (no breaks in between), take a 1 minute break and repeat the set 2-3 times. Follow the circuit with the last four exercises with the lighter pack. Increase repetitions (up to 25) and weight as needed.


*Consult your physician before starting any new exercise program.


For more hiking fitness tips from Joy, check out Off-Season Conditioning for Hiking.
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