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While non-waterproof shoes shine for summer backpacking and hiking with their light weight, breathability, and quick dry times, when temperatures fall, and especially when snow is involved I turn to a waterproof breathable solution. This has meant abandoning my usual lightweight footwear approach and turning to heavy Gore-Tex boots or similar, and going from my normal lightweight zero drop trail runners to a heavy cumbersome boot with a raised heel and significant heel to toe drop has always been a bit of shock. Not to mention, I still have yet to find a boot of this type that is completely comfortable. These types of boots are often built for maximum durability and consequently they’re bulky and heavy, which simply isn’t great for walking. To keep the soles from wearing out faster than the uppers the sole rubber used is durable, but often with durability the tradeoff is that traction is compromised on slick surfaces like snow and ice without additional traction devices. However, a couple years ago zero drop shoe maker Altra released a waterproof breathable version of their popular Lone Peak trail running shoe, quite popular with many hikers, backpackers, and myself for most 3 season conditions.

Altra Lone Peak NeoShell Low Review

The NeoShell version of the Lone Peak features Polartec’s air permeable yet waterproof NeoShell fabric along with all the normal features you’ll find in the Lone Peak. A normal low cut version, as well as a mid-height boot offering are available in the 3.0 line – while the mesh Lone Peak is now up to the 3.5 version, no Lone Peak Polartec NeoShell 3.5 is currently available from Altra. Since the Altra NeoShell release, I’ve had the opportunity to utilize both the original 2.0 NeoShell as well as the more recent and current NeoShell low shoe and mid based on the more recent Lone Peak 3.0 – in addition to all other normal mesh versions of the Lone Peaks save for the 3.5.

Altra Lone Peak NeoShell Mid Review

In either version the NeoShell Lone Peak uses a unique approach and places the waterproofing layer on the outside of the shoe as a shell, instead of as a bootie or liner sewn into the interior of the boot or shoe as you’ll find with Gore-Tex, eVent, or similar proprietary membranes from other manufacturers. What this does is repel moisture immediately without allowing it to soak the outer fabrics or materials of the shoe, and it also allows the interior fabrics of the shoe to offer quite a bit of moisture buffering capacity as your feet sweat. For either version, an aggressive trail running tread pattern provides traction, while a generous midsole with a rockplate provides ample cushioning and smooths out the ride. Shoe or boot, the Lone Peak NeoShell is quite light (15.25 ounces each in my size 12.5’s for the mid) and this combined with the zero drop design, and “foot shaped” wide toe box really make these very comfortable to hike in.

Lone Peak ToeBox  - 3.0

The NeoShell Mid offers all the same features but with the addition of added ankle support, better compatibility with gaiters, and additional warmth. All things that should be great for snow travel, while the low cut version is great for its light weight and mobility. While the tongue is gusseted, unfortunately it’s gusseted using a non-waterproof, ripstop nylon material and this can be the source of water intrusion into the shoe or boot. On the 3.0, there is still an improvement in this area as the tongue is now covered in NeoShell, compared to the earlier 2.0’s non-waterproof mesh. The tongue gusset issue is limited to some extent simply by the overlap of the tongue and shoe, creating something of a seal when worn, and can be further sealed off through the use of gaiters if you use them. However and in my case using the MLD eVent gaiter, the area is not completely covered towards the front of the shoe and some spacing is always created by the laces. (Altra also offers their own gaiter, but it is not waterproof) If you’d like to use a gaiter that does not utilize an underfoot strap or cord, the NeoShells are well setup for them, containing Altra’s Velcro gaiter trap on the heel for compatibility with gaiters that secure this way, and either way along with a ring in front of the laces for your gaiter hooks.

Lone Peak NeoShell with MLD Gaiters

Lone Peak NeoShell Mid w/ MLD eVent Gaiter

Altra does offer up a disclaimer on their website that these are not meant to replace waterproof full rubber boots, but I was hopeful that they would at least offer a replacement for typical Gore-Tex, eVent, or proprietary membrane waterproof offerings from many mainstream shoe and boot manufacturers that use an inner bootie to provide waterproofing. In practice the NeoShell from Altra is more water-resistant than proof, with the leakage through the tongue gusset, standing water is out of the question and I have additionally noticed leakage in this area from melting snow, and seemingly through the fabric / seams of the shoe itself as a hiking day goes on in snow and / or wet conditions and even when wearing waterproof gaiters. Additionally as the NeoShell is on the outside of the shoe and while it’s designed to be used as an outer layer, it will take direct abuse and abrasion over time from snow, ice, rocks, and brush and as time goes on the fabric will wet out faster. As such, for longer shoulder season and winter excursions in snow or chilly wet conditions there is still very much a place for more traditional Gore-Tex or similar waterproof / breathable boots in my gear room and the NeoShell is best suited for conditions where only occasional or intermittent moisture may be encountered. Hopefully as with improvements from the 2.0 to the 3.0 further waterproofing improvements can be made in the future as the NeoShell version matures, and especially since the Lone Peak platform is essentially unrivaled when it comes to fit and comfort.

Long Term NeoShell wear on the Lone Peak, 2.0 model shown

Long term, extensive NeoShell wear example. (Lone Peak 2.0 NeoShell version shown)

I do however find breathability of the shoes to be a plus, although as you might expect they do run a bit too hot for me for summer hiking. As such and overall the NeoShell is best at keeping your feet warm in cool but not cold conditions – adding a VBL will help as temps drop lower, but at some point you’ll want to switch to an insulated boot – and thus as a whole I find them best for a somewhat narrow range of day activities (running in the lows, day hiking in either the lows or mids) and they work best in cool dry conditions or on shorter excursions in the same weather when moisture is added to the equation. When wet and placed in a dry warm environment to dry, the shoes do dry quickly for an offering of this type.

Lone Peak Gaiter Trap

One other thing on the wishlist for a future version and only in relation to the mid version is that metal closed eyelets are used towards the cuff – it would have been great if these had been open hook speed lace hardware to make tying and untying your shoes and loosening all that much easier and faster.

Durability is inline with what you’d expect from a normal trailrunner. The sole will wear at the same rate, and I’ve found that just as the soles are about completely out of tread the upper is breaking down at around the same rate. Of course by this time with the shoes out of tread traction became a concern with a few slips to prove it. It seems that the upper and tread wear out all at about the same rate and somewhat gracefully over time, so if the feature set and performance works for one’s usage at first it all works. In regards to the mids these won’t be boots you’ll have resoled and use for years and years by any means, though.

Lone Peak Mid - NeoShell in Snow

For me the low cut version for the most part is relegated perhaps for what it was originally designed for: running in cold conditions and I also like it for day hikes or backpacking in chilly, but dry, shoulder season conditions. If more support and warmth is desired in similar conditions with running out of the equation, the mid may be the way to go. Either way the benefits of a footwear solution that’s as comfortable as your normal trail running shoe while adding both water resistance and warmth are very welcome during those times of the year when temps are lower, and on shorter excursions when light infrequent precipitation or snow may be encountered or where water resistance is desired, and in these specific situations the NeoShells do excel at keeping your feet warm and comfortable.

Altra Lone Peak NeoShell - Hiking in Snow

The NeoShell Lone Peak from Altra is available for men and women in both a low cut trail runner and mid-height boot version ranging from around $130 to $160, but you can occasionally find them on sale for a modest discount. You can check out both versions here at REI, at Backcountry, and on


Sometimes even a quick day hike can provide inspiration for another quick trip or a subsequent backpacking excursion, and such was the case last year on a family dayhike in the Bridger Wilderness of the southern Wind River Mountains. The plan: a simple morning in and a brief offtrail excursion to a river shown on the map, a brief afternoon of fishing and a return to the trailhead before evening drew on too long. Logistically simple, the hike went as planned and was a typical summer stroll along and off the trail – until we reached the river.

Summer Wind River Wildflowers

Summer sights were abundant, but the river itself was nowhere to be found. Slightly bewildered and evaluating the map, we did now stand in a slight depression, entirely dry and it didn’t look like water had ever flowed through it. And we weren’t looking for an intermittent, seasonal creek either – this was a legitimate and named river. Doubting my map skills momentarily, I even turned my phone on and double checked with Gaia GPS – and sure enough, the app showed us standing in the river. Hiking on a bit farther through the lodgepole pine forest, entering a scenic dry meadow where it seemed good campsites – perhaps for another time – were nearly everywhere you looked.

More Wildflower Season in the Winds

The more I hike, and perhaps the more bad campsites I stay the night in, the more I’ve come to appreciate the good ones. You know the spot: an actual flat place to sleep where you’re not sliding around your tent throughout the night, one that is protected but still with a view, and one that's close enough to a water source – at least according to the map. But this was just a day hike. At such a site in the meadow we had lunch, but with the day getting late the decision was made to abandon the river search and perhaps, return at a later time. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this in the Wind River Range. While the USGS maps are for the most part quite accurate, it seems that when it comes to waterways assumptions have occasionally been made; water always flows downhill, but not always where you think it might at first glance. In any event, finding one of these inaccuracies, whether on USGS topos or usually equally reflected on other options like the Beartooth or Earthwalk maps has always been a great excuse to explore further and to see what the land truly reveals, and adds a bit of mystery to any follow up hike.  

Signs of Fall in the Winds Rivers

A year later and in need of a quick and easy family style overnight with easy logistics, we headed back to the site. Some research at home, looking at satellite views had revealed the real location of the river – nearly a mile away from where the USGS topos had suggested. After a drive to the southern end of the range ending with a rough final drive to the trailhead we hit the trail and made our way towards the meadow we’d eaten lunch at the year before,  and after sheltering from a brief and quick moving rain shower we eventually made it just as our younger trail companion’s legs began to fade. Although late in the year…so much that aspens were turning yellow…lupine still bloomed and the last glimpse of summer wildflowers was quite the welcome surprise.

Hiking in the Wind Rivers and Summer Lupine

After deciding on a reasonable spot to setup the tent, we ambled off in the real direction of the river, both to actually find it this time, evaluate fishing opportunities, as well as load up and filter some water. The meadow was higher, so after descending a game trail we found, and crashing through the brush, we entered a lush soggy meadow and eventually found ourselves on the river bank of the slowly flowing, lazy river that meandered through meadows.

River in the Wind Range

Filled only with small brook trout, fishing was decided against but water was filtered and returning to complete camp setup for the night, dinner was had – a fire considered but decided against on this mild evening, and much time was spent relaxing, taking photos, and watching the moon rise, set, and stargazing as the show emerged overhead in force while elk bugled in the distance. Eventually we all piled into our trusty Tarptent Hogback for the night.

Bridger Wilderness Sunset and Moonrise

The next morning after a night well above freezing the elk were again bugling at sunrise, more water was filtered, camp dismantled, and packs shouldered as we made our way back to the trail and eventually the trailhead again. Although a short and easy trip, it was a trip that easily fell together and was easily accomplished and all at a great spot – sometimes just what you need – and with one last glimpse of summer to boot. And best of all, now we know even more than the map at first reveals.


One thing is for certain: we all need to keep our sleeping gear dry and we all need to be able to fit it all in our pack. Like many of us, in the past I’ve used everything from a set of individual dry bags to accomplish these goals to budget friendly trash compactor bags. All worked well and served the purpose of keeping my sleeping bag and clothing dry during rainy days on the trail while also offering some benefit in the way of compression. As a user of an inflatable Exped sleeping pad however, one choice – the Exped Schnozzel pump bag – offers both the benefits of waterproofing and compression while also working for an additional use: inflating my sleeping pad at the end of the day while adding just 2.1 ounces to my pack and gear ensemble. 

Exped Schnozzel Pump Bag Review

Exped offers several versions of the product, the standard, heavy duty Schnozzel in both a medium (up to 42 liters) and large (up to 85 liters), as well as the lighter UL version in the same sizes. For my use, the UL, medium version is a great fit and is the topic of discussion here. At first resembling a larger roll-top dry bag or pack liner, the Exped Schnozzel pump bag is made from waterproof nylon construction with taped seams.

Exped Schnozzel and Apater that Attaches to Exped Pads

The top of the bag is secured with a roll top and buckles to hold everything in place, and setting it apart the bottom features an adapter that fits the inflation valve on Exped sleeping pads that don’t feature an integrated pump; when inside your pack this adapter fits securely in a holder and in a stowed sealed position. If you have an Exped pad made after 2010 you’re all set, but for older pads, or those with an integrated pump Exped also offers a flat valve adapter to make the Schnozzel compatible. Additionally and if you’re so inclined, Exped even makes a shower attachment for the pump bag to expand its capability into the hygiene department.

Exped Schnozzel

I utilize the pump bag with the Exped Synmat UL 7 sleeping pad, and it works perfectly for inflation once you get to camp. Once the bag is emptied of whatever you’re storing inside of it during the day on the trail and by snapping the valve to the sleeping pad, you’re able to easily inflate a pad by opening the bag up and allowing it to fill with air (a quick breath from a couple feet away can assist with inflation), then rolling the opening of the bag closed, gradually forcing air from the inflated bag and into the sleeping pad. Repeating the process a few times does the job to fully inflate even a long and wide sleeping pad, and not only does it alleviate any huffing and puffing to get your pad inflated, it also inflates it with ambient air, and not moisture-laden air from your own breath that’s getting into your pad's insulation and staying there – not a great mix day after day. 

Sealed Up in Dry Bag Mode

On the trail, I use the Schnozzel to both store and compress my sleeping gear and clothing. Normally I stow both my ZPacks 20 Degree sleeping bag and the aforementioned Synmat UL 7 sleeping pad, a pillow, and a down jacket plus any extra clothing I’m taking along on the trip inside. The bag is then packed first at the bottom of my pack – by inserting the bag and compressing the air out, then rolling the bag closed and securing / sealing via the buckles on each side, you’re able to compress all this gear, while sheltering it from the elements and it all ends up perfectly comforming and fitting the available space in your pack. 

Schnozzel Compressed and Used as a Dry Bag

Where the Schnozzel really hits the mark is in its usefulness for a variety of purposes on the trail and it’s equally useful for each one. If you’re already an Exped sleeping pad user it’s an excellent accessory to pick up that will make life on the trail easier by of course inflating your sleeping pad without introducing excessive moisture from your breath into your pad and insulation, while also compressing your gear during the day and keeping it all dry on rainy trail days – and all at an ultralight weight.

The Exped Schnozzel UL retails for about $40 – find it here at REI, at CampSaver, or on

Steve Ancik

I am a photographer. I am a hiker. I am a backpacker. I am a mountain biker. Sometimes I am all of those in the same day. But most often, I am on an awesome trail and am trying to take an award-winning photo of the area. My trips are usually built around getting to an area to photograph its beauty. I am always searching for beautiful photographic exposures of scenes that not everybody has viewed, looking for vistas that excite my eyes. Sometimes hiking or backpacking is the best way to get there, and sometimes a mountain bike the preferred way. Over the years, I have had the privilege and pleasure to visit a lot of places, particularly in the American west. This is a story of my quest to get to some of these places.

Exploring National Recreation and Multiuse Trail Systems

Trails that I have hiked and ridden are often multiuse trails, open to hikers, mountain bikers, hunters, cross-country skiers, equestrians, and other users. Some are designated as National Recreation Trails and others are simply great local trails. Some of the best of these multiuse trails that I have ridden and/or hiked include Gooseberry Mesa and Little Creek Mesa in Utah, Berryman Trail in Missouri, South Boundary Trail and the High Desert Trail System in New Mexico, Black Canyon Trail in Arizona, Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas, and Hermosa Creek Trail in Colorado. As I get older and more inclined to hike instead of ride, I will no doubt return and hike more of these.

Gooseberry Mesa and Little Creek Mesa

These trails are some of the most beautiful trails that I have ever experienced. Both mesas tower above the surrounding landscape, offering views better measured in miles than feet. Located on Bureau of Land Management lands east of Hurricane, Utah and just a few miles from Zion National Park, the vistas from the north rims of each mesa display Zion in all its glory. Looking west you can see views of the distant often snow-capped Pine Valley Mountains plus a panorama of desert canyons and plains in every direction. The trails on both mesas feature a combination of sandy tracks and solid rock, known locally as ‘slickrock’, although being solid sandstone, there is really not much ‘slick’ about them – your grip when hiking or riding is great. Navigation on a slickrock trail often involves some amount of searching for the trail. Gooseberry is in many places marked by white paint dots on the rock. Little Creek is mostly marked by widely-spaced cairns - sometimes you will come to a large flattish area of sandstone with a single cairn in the distance - it often takes a sharp eye to spot them. Other segments of the trails on both mesas are on more traditional singletrack trail and are easy to follow. Gooseberry has over 20 miles of trails of various lengths which can be combined into hikes or rides of almost any distance, depending on your stamina. Little Creek is a bit more isolated so is not as busy, and has two interconnected loops of about 9 miles each. Getting to Gooseberry and Little Creek Mesas require driving on several miles of sometimes rough dirt roads. These are both places seldom seen by the average visitor to the Zion area, but well worth the effort of getting there. Gooseberry Trail has been designated as a National Recreation Trail.

Gooseberry Vista from Gooseberry Mesa

Uses: bicycling, camping, dogs (on leash), and walking/hiking/running.

Best Time to Go: Best April through November. Summers can be extremely hot! There is no water on the mesas, so carry plenty. Restrooms are available near the trailhead of Gooseberry Mesa; there are no facilities at Little Creek Mesa. Primitive camping is allowed on the mesas.

Berryman Trail

This is a 24 mile loop trail in central Missouri near Potosi. This 70-year old National Recreation Trail passes through two campgrounds (Berryman Campground and Brazil Creek Campground) on an up and down route through heavy woods. Several crossings of small streams are included. The trail surface can be rough at times, with exposed rocks, eroded areas, and hoof tracks from horses. One can travel in either direction from either campground, but I have always started at Brazil Creek and gone clockwise. Beginning as I have from the Brazil Creek campground (no facilities are available, except for a few fire rings and picnic tables), and going clockwise, the trail heads uphill through the dense forest, and thereafter a series of descents and climbs greet you until you reach the Berryman Campground (picnic shelter, vault toilet, no water) in about the ten miles. From this point, continuing clockwise it is about fourteen miles back to the starting point at Brazil Creek campground. The western half of Berryman Trail is also part of the 390-mile Ozark Trail. Starting at Berryman campground and continuing to the north you are following the Ozark Trail until the trails eventually split. There is water available from several creeks (treat it!) and from an old trough about two-thirds of the way along the trail (I think this is from an artesian well, but I would treat it too). Overall, Berryman Trail is a great hiking, backpacking, and mountain biking loop. The trail can be easily divided into a two- or three-day backpacking trip, or shorter out-and-back day hikes, or an epic one-day mountain bike adventure.

Berryman - Typical Berryman Trail

Uses: bicycling, hiking, camping, dogs (on leash), wildlife observation, and equestrian.

Best Time to Go: All year, but summer can be hot and humid.

South Boundary Trail

This National Recreation Trail spans about 20 to 25 miles in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Carson National Forest between Angel Fire and Taos, New Mexico. It is heavily wooded with piñon pines, ponderosa pines, junipers, and aspens. In the fall, the aspens turn parts of the mountains bright yellow. There are also wildflower-filled meadows, wildlife, and numerous views of the surrounding mountains. As a mountain bike ride, the trail is often done as a shuttle, starting at the eastern end from one of a couple possible starting points, and ending near Taos at the west end. The trail ranges in elevation from about 7,200 feet to about 10,700 feet, so you will definitely feel like you are in the mountains! The South Boundary Trail is one of the most popular trails in Carson National Forest. The trail varies from old fire roads to long sections of singletrack, and the east to west route has more downhill than uphill. Hiking options would include starting at Garcia Park or Osha Mountain and hiking out and back. This would also be an excellent two or three-day backpacking trip. There are camping areas in the Garcia Park area along the trail, as well as dispersed camping in the national forest along the way.

Late fall view from South Boundary Trail

Uses: bicycling, camping, equestrian, hunting, walking/hiking/running, and snowshoeing.

Best Time to Go: Year-round, depending on your use.

High Desert Trail System

Just outside of Gallup, New Mexico is a series of looped trails that start at two different parking areas. The High Desert Trail System is designated as a National Recreation Trail. As you might expect from the name of these trails, this is ‘high desert’ country and has plenty of rock and sand supporting a desert mix of piñon pines, sagebrush, and junipers. Some of these trails are on rocky ground, but most are sandy soil singletrack. There are a few areas of interesting ‘hoodoo’ formations, and quite a few excellent views. Even though these trails were designed for mountain biking, I have seen hikers on them several times and would definitely recommend them as a good hiking location, particularly when higher elevations are less desirable because of weather or trail conditions. Along the trails are several metal sculptures, such as a coyote, a sundial, a mountain lion, and others. There are also some of the most amazing trail markers or ‘cairns’ that I have ever seen - some are as tall as a full-grown human man! Further proof of the trail builders’ “cool factor” are Native American-inspired trail signs of a backpacker and a mountain biker. There is no camping allowed on the High Desert Trail System, but there is camping available a few miles away in the Zuni Mountains, to the south of Interstate 40.

High Desert Trail has thee most impressive cairns!

Uses: bicycling, dogs (on leash), walking/hiking/running, and wildlife observation.

Best Time to Go: Fall through Spring. Summers can be extremely hot!

Black Canyon Trail

This is a nearly 80-mile north-south trail in the Sonoran Desert of central Arizona. It extends from Prescott National Forest near Prescott (north end) to Carefree Highway (Highway 74) near Phoenix (south end). The trail has eight trailheads that break it into manageable sections. The trail runs generally parallel to Interstate Highway 17. I have ridden on a couple of segments of this trail, which winds through areas offering some of the most stunning desert scenery that I have seen; for me it was hard to focus on the trail, as I kept looking around at the scenery. Perhaps next time I’ll hike instead of ride so that I can slow down and better take in my surroundings. The trail is nearly all singletrack and passes through rolling terrain with multiple types of cacti, including barrel, cholla, ocotillo, and a large number of the impressive saguaro. The trail crosses the Agua Fria River in places, and at those crossings the vegetation is sometimes dense mesquite. On one ride on the Black Canyon Trail, I spotted my first and (so far) only gila monster, which is a large venomous pinkish-orange and brownish-black lizard - quite a thrill, as they are rarely seen.

Black Canyon Trail and Saguaro Cacti

Uses: bicycling, walking/hiking/running, dogs (on leash), equestrian (riding and pack trips), and camping.

Best Time to Go: November through April. Summers can be extremely hot!

Palo Duro Canyon State Park

This State Park in the Texas panhandle just south of Amarillo. While not on the scale of the Grand Canyon, Palo Duro Canyon is still impressive, and has several excellent trails. The trail to the Lighthouse (the best known formation in the park), combined with Givens-Spicer-Lowry (GSL) Trail, Little Fox Canyon Trail, and Paseo del Rio Trail makes an excellent 10.5 mile loop. The Lighthouse Trail is a wide, well-used trail with little elevation change until you get near the end, at which point there is a steep climb up and over a ridge. Once you’re on the ridge, the Lighthouse is in view. Continuing the last few hundred feet you ascend onto a small mesa where the Lighthouse is located, and where pretty much everybody takes at least one “selfie”. Returning the way you came and then turning left onto the GSL Trail, you get away from the sometimes crowded Lighthouse Trail, and can enjoy many more miles of desert terrain. The next few miles are not too difficult, although there are some short steep climbs, and the trail is easy to follow. Along the GSL Trail, you can enjoy several sections of especially colorful cliffs and hills and several areas with hoodoos of varying sizes. The Little Fox Canyon Trail is an out-and-back side trail off of GSL, and the Paseo del Rio Trail takes you from the end of GSL back to the parking lot for the Lighthouse Trail, completing the loop. Across the park is the Rock Garden Trail which climbs about 600 feet from the road in the bottom of the canyon to a rimtop view in a 2.4 mile (one way) hike or ride. This trail is not as colorful as the Lighthouse and GSL trails, but makes up for it in the overview of the canyon from the top. The trail is mostly an uphill hike with just a few downhill sections, but overall I did not find it to be especially strenuous. All of these trails are designed for multiple uses, whereas several other trails in the park are designated for hiking only, biking only, or equestrian only.

Palo Duro Canyon The Lighthouse

Uses: Walking/hiking/running, bicycling, equestrian.

Best Time to Go: Fall through Spring. Summers can be extremely hot!

Hermosa Creek

The 25 mile Hermosa Creek Trail is located just north of Durango, Colorado. Starting at the north end gives you a net loss of about 1,500 feet by the time you get to the southern end near the village of Hermosa. Almost all of this trail is singletrack, except for a few miles at the northern end. The trail is not purely a descending hike or ride, as there is a mile-long section toward the south end that includes a 500 foot climb - the price you pay for the rewards of this beautiful trail! Most of the trail is within sight of Hermosa Creek, sometimes from far above it, and sometimes right next to it. Ponderosa pines and Douglas firs are the predominant conifers along the trail, with stands of aspens in some places. There are also several other trails that branch off from Hermosa Creek Trail, giving you numerous options. One week several years ago, a group of mountain biking buddies and I were planning on a trip to Santa Fe and Durango to ride. Less than a week before we were to leave, I broke my wrist. I decided to go anyhow, and spent the week hiking on trails where they rode, taking lots of pictures, and functioning as their shuttle driver when needed. It was on this trip that I hiked a few miles of the northern end of Hermosa Creek Trail before heading back to the highway to meet up with them after their ride. I’ve also been on the trail when a summer thunderstorm came up - scary, and not an experience I’d recommend. Check the weather forecast before you set off.

Hermosa Creek - View from the northern end of Hermosa Creek Trail

Uses: Mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing.

Best Time to Go: All year, depending on use.

Multiuse trails are a shared experience - enjoyed by hikers, mountain bikers, riders on horseback, and other users. I use these trails as my way to get out in nature and away from the hustle and bustle of civilization and to get to places to use my camera in my never-ending search for new vistas and great photographs. So, whether you are hiking, riding, or using these trails in some other way, just get out there, share the trail, and see the world in your own personal way!

The Author: Steve Ancik is a landscape architect by profession whose hobbies include mountain biking, photography, hiking, and backpacking. He lives in Edmond, Oklahoma. You can see more of his photographs at All photographs in this article © Steven L. Ancik. 

Susan Dragoo

The Ozarks of northwest Arkansas and southern Missouri are full of magical places, and thanks to the rest of the world’s inattention to this glorious natural area, solitude can often be easily found. Eye-catching geology abounds as a consequence of erosion of the high plateau that created the peaks and hollows characteristic of the area. Clear rivers and streams lace through limestone bluffs and natural bridges and over waterfalls, making the Ozarks an outdoor paradise.

Ozark Mountains Hikes

There are so many spots with stunning scenery in the Ozarks that the best thing to do is base your adventure in one locale and explore for a few days. We recently visited the area near Jasper, a very small town on the Buffalo National River. There, we stayed at the Cliff House, a hotel and restaurant overlooking the “Arkansas Grand Canyon,” a wide canyon carved by the Buffalo, and took in three short, easy, and very scenic hikes.

Alum Cove

Natural bridges are surprisingly common in the Ozarks and one of the largest is at Alum Cove Natural Bridge Geological Area in the Ozark Natural Forest. The arch is 130 feet long and 20 feet wide, all that remains of what was once a quartz sandstone cave. Parking is near a sizable picnic area with tables and a restroom, a convenient stop before hiking down the switchbacks into the hollow. It’s only about 4 tenths of a mile to the arch but the entire 1.1-mile nature trail is worth the time to hike it. While it’s interesting walking atop the arch, the view from below is much more intriguing.The trail continues down the hill from the base of the arch and follows a bluffline with a shallow cave, then loops back up to the trailhead.

Hiking to Alum Cove

Directions: From Jasper, take State Highway 7 south for 15 miles. Turn west on State Highway 16 and go 1 mile. Turn northwest on Newton County Road 28 and go 3 miles. 

Kings River Falls

The highlight of this easy, level two-mile round trip is a waterfall flanked by broad stone slabs perfect for picnicking and sunbathing. Kings River Falls is a popular swimming hole in the summer, but visit in cooler weather and you may have it all to yourself. Most of the trail runs along the Kings River, a clear mountain stream on your right, and on your left a hay field defined by an old rock wall. A grist mill once stood at the big falls — look closely for marks carved into the stone.

Kings River Falls - Dayhikes of the Ozarks

Directions: From the community of Boston on State Highway 16 (between Fallsville and St. Paul), go north on County Road 3175 for 2.1 miles; bear right as the road forks onto County Road 3415. Stay on this road for 2.3 miles until you come to a "T" intersection with County Road 3500. Turn left, and go across the creek and park at the natural area sign.

Glory Hole Falls Trail

I’d wanted to see this place in the Ozark National Forest for years and it was definitely the highlight of the trip. The 1.9-mile round trip trail follows an old roadbed that drops down the hill to a place where Dismal Creek falls through a large opening through the roof of a bluff. The trail comes to the top of the bluffline where you can see the opening from the top. On the right there is a way to continue to the bottom. It is steep and slick in places as you enter a moist glade area. Once there, you can walk beneath the overhang and immerse yourself in the beauty of the waterfall, especially dramatic after a rain. Use caution, a hiker was critically injured here in 2015 when he fell 25 to 30 feet off a ledge to the rocks below.

Glory Hole Falls Trail

Directions: From Edwards Junction (the intersection of State Highways 16 and 21) travel west on 16/21 for 2.3 miles, going 0.7 miles past the Cassville Baptist Church. There is a parking area with room for several vehicles on the south side of the road, opposite a house up on a hill. Park along the highway and hike along the 4WD road, turning right at the bulletin board.

Additional Resources: Two books that detail hikes in this area of the Ozarks are Arkansas Hiking Trails and Arkansas Waterfalls, both by Tim Ernst.  


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The Red Desert of Wyoming holds a unique appeal no matter your approach – it’s a country just as suitable for backpacking as it is for exploring and camping beside your vehicle off a rough and long forgotten dirt road. Either way, you’re likely to be in the middle of the nowhere.

Wilderness Study Area in Wyoming

Adding to its allure, to begin the year the desert can only be comfortably explored for a short time each spring after the roads have sufficiently dried from melting snow to make passage by vehicle (just to get there) possible, and before this treeless and shadeless expanse becomes too hot for comfortable hiking. And especially for family hiking as would be the case on this trip. And even hot weather aside, admittedly as summer arrives in full swing the high country opens up to distract a hiker up and into the mountains to enjoy those alpine meadows and valleys with pleasant summer mountain weather.

Hiking Among the Numerous Colored and Banded Buttes

Recently a quick backpacking trip was made into a particularly scenic corner of the Red Desert to explore one of the numerous Wilderness Study Areas that can be found in central Wyoming. One of my favorite things about backpacking is the pure adaptability of one’s existence, with your home on your back and as long as you have water and food, you don’t really need to be anywhere other than where you currently stand. Thus, as we left the highway and the dirt road progressively became rougher, and began to become only muddier as we turned onto a more obscure high clearance road passable only with the assistance of 4 wheel drive and patient driving, it gradually became apparent that plans would need to be changed. Not wanting to only get stuck farther in on the slick road, maps were consulted and an alternate entry into the Wilderness Study Area located. In this park anywhere, trail-less, camp wherever you can pitch your tent country, we pulled off the side of the road and shouldering packs laden with water picked our way through the sagebrush and hiked south.

Hiking into the Wilderness Study Area, Wyoming

Although it wasn’t even officially summer at the time, the early afternoon sun was unrelenting and as a family trip, we’d need to make the most of our miles. Descending to the bottom of a rim we followed the contours and canyons that made up its base, with a multitude of unique formations serving as ample entertainment for all of us. Eventually, a suitable alcove was located to serve as a campsite, and the rest of the day was spent photographing, exploring from camp, and observing the numerous wildflowers and local residents of the area…from prairie dogs to prairie falcons.

Backpacking and Camping in Wyoming's Red Desert

At sunset thunderstorms threatened and made for an amazing display, while gusty winds covered everything we had in fine sand. That night coyotes howled not much farther than a stone’s throw from our tent. The rain held off – meaning we’d actually be able to drive out the next day.

Sunset in Wyoming's Red Desert - Great Divide Basin

With storms again threatening the next day however, a lazy hike out – stopping to take photos nearly every few feet – became the plan as temperatures climbed and clouds grew taller in the distance. Ascending the rim we passed a herd of cows, then elk, then a lone antelope and eventually reached our lone vehicle. It hadn’t yet rained though, and the road seemed just a bit drier than yesterday, so we drove on to explore the area around what had been originally planned to serve as a starting point only to find that the road had been closed by the BLM and we were lucky we’d stopped where we had the previous day.

Spring Wildflowers in the Wyoming Desert - Primrose

But the further exploration was beneficial as much for the additionally scenery as for the knowledge gained when further exploration of the area is due. Turning around and after an hour of bumpy driving, we reached pavement just as the first drops of rain coated the windshield and with the satisfaction of this quick trip into the desert…along with plenty of ideas for the next.

Stormy Weather Approaches from the Mountains

Information: Exploring this area can be a bit difficult as the BLM web pages covering the Wilderness Study Areas in this region have recently gone offline, but information can be found with a little sleuthing and by using web archive services. Take plenty of water, gas, and provisions and check your spare. Watch the weather and forecast before the trip and the weather during, roads are often impassable when wet even with 4 wheel drive.

Best Time to Go: Spring after the roads have dried enough for easy passage (timing varies), and early fall – check hunting seasons.

Getting There: The Red Desert is located in south-central Wyoming. Numerous, somewhat maintained dirt country roads act as convenient ways to access more remote areas of interest from main highways. High clearance and 4 wheel drive are not required to get there, but are nice features to have, can help access more remote areas, and might help get you out!

Maps: Printing USGS topo maps at home for hiking and combining with a detailed atlas like the Delorme Atlas and / or the Benchmark Map offerings to get you around while driving is a good strategy.


The expression “timing is everything”, occasionally derided as a common-sense platitude, is compelling when applied to backpacking. Hiking along a knife-edge ridge at sunset, watching sunrise from a campsite above timberline, encountering wildlife unexpectedly, getting the tent pitched at the last possible minute before a storm – meticulously planned or completely serendipitous, such moments  are part of the thrill of backpacking. The physical act of backpacking, simply walking with a burden of gear and food attached to one’s body, is objectively not an “extreme” endeavor, but many of the scenes witnessed by us are nothing short of phenomenal.

Ice-out Trout Fishing Bitterroot National Forest Montana

Seasons, by definition particular times of year, are one of the most common qualifiers used to describe backpacking trips. Fall in New England, summer in the Rockies, springtime in the Southwest. These combinations of time and place are all that it takes to conjure up images of quintessential scenery to most hikers. Backpacking at the height of each season can feel like a journey through the absolute essence of a natural cycle. Rebirth, vibrancy, fading away, and dormancy. 

Backpacking the Bitterroots

After slowly becoming familiar with the terrain and timing of the Northern Rockies, I’ve began to embrace the magic and ephemera of landforms during the in-between seasons. Without a doubt, the early summer ice-out of high country lakes is one of the most surreal and rewarding of the fleeting transition and dramatic changes from one distinct season to another. Recently unfrozen water lapping against the shore as well as sheets of ice covering the lake is a mesmerizing sight to behold.

Varying with elevation, latitude, severity of winter, and the unique aspects and exposures of individual lakes, ice-out in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana begins earnestly in the second half of May and continues through June. Visiting at least one high mountain lake when its ice is just beginning to melt is on my annual and continually growing backpacking “to do” list. Watching ice recede further from the shore while wearing short-sleeves and whiling away an afternoon drinking tea and reading is a sublime pleasure.

Bitterroot National Forest Hiking

While it might seem to be about as entertaining as watching paint dry, I’ve found that the setting is an excellent one in which to more easily ponder the concept of geological deep time and experience an exaggerate microcosm of glacial pacing. Hearing the gushing of snowmelt swollen inlet streams, looking at craggy ridgelines ringed with snow and still pockmarked with ice formations, admiring the perfect level surface of a partially ice-covered lake; all with temperature swings of 50 degrees likely within a 24-hour period. When extrapolated from the local to the global, the present to the past and to the future, postcard scenes become as profound as encyclopedia entries.

The first of three lakes I visited on a recent overnight trip to enjoy prime ice-out conditions was an unnamed tarn that I reached after an hour of motivated hiking. Completely melted and with patchy snow around its shores, its waters reflected the blue sky above and the talus slope on its southern shore with mirrorlike precision. Pressing on towards the highest lake and the one I intended to camp at, I swatted mosquitoes, admired wildflowers, and tried to keep my feet dry when crossing the numerous melt-water streams.

Tarn in the Bitterroots

Reaching Kidney Lake, I was treated to a stunning lakeside panorama of a lake that I’d been to three times before but which seemed to be a totally different place. The remaining ice and snow both muted and amplified features of the lake. The background noise of a waterfall on the inlet stream provided a soundtrack that would slowly fade away in the coming weeks as the snow that fed it melted away. I had hoped for successful ice-out fishing, but neither the trout below the lake’s surface or the two I spotted in a pool in the outlet stream were interested in the flies I tossed onto the water.

Backpacking the Bitterroots

Although several feet of snow persisted around the shore of the lake, I was able to find a spot with dry ground for my tent and an adjacent snow-free area to cook. The “dining room” of this trip featured a breathtaking view of the crags and a peak above the lake, with a small channel of open water at my feet before it turned into a sheet of ice stretching across the lake to the base of the slopes that stretched upward to the aforementioned attractions. A delicious meal of pasta, tuna, spinach and mushrooms warmed me up as the sun set and a chilly night that would stall any continued melting descended upon the lake. 

Iced Over Kidney Lake

During consumption of coffee the next morning, I was treated to watching the rays of the rising sun wash across the white and ice-blue canvas of the lake. Not wishing to leave anything left unseen, I made a detour to the far side of the lake to enjoy a closer view of the waterfall before making the short trek to Camas Lake. The third lake of my trip, Camas Lake had already completed the “defrost” cycle that Kidney Lake was in the midst of. 

Only 500 feet lower in the cirque and barely a half-mile away, the contrast was astounding. Almost totally ice free, aside from a few small floes, Camas Lake provided a true taste of summer in the Northern Rockies. A few fish snatched bugs from the surface of the water, but avoided the various flies I tossed their way. However, moving around the lake the action was much better and several gorgeous cutthroats were hooked, landed and released.

Glacier Lilies - Spring Hiking in the Bitterroots

As the fishing waned later in the afternoon and a thunderstorm brewed to the west, it seemed like a good time to begin the pleasant downhill jaunt to the trailhead. Two crossings of rushing streams served as reminders during the warm but mostly shaded hike that summer, with its more moderated stream flows, ice-free lakes, and snow-free mountain passes, was still a few weeks away. I couldn’t help but smile knowing that while I’d have a few months to enjoy the summer hiking conditions favored with good reason by backpackers, I’d also perfectly hit the narrow window of opportunity for experiencing enchanting and crowdless pre-season scenery. 


The early-season opportunity to bike portions of Going to the Sun in Glacier National Park without any automobile traffic seems too good to be true. Miles of paved road passing alongside streams rushing with snowmelt, climbing into the high country, weaving through lush forests – all behind a gate and open only to bicycles and foot traffic. I’ve done enough recreational road biking and bike commuting to develop a sincere appreciation of a smooth surface, hard tires, and minimal traffic through beautiful landscapes but rarely plan trips around bicycling. Instead, like most backpackers, I plan my trips around trails. So it was a bit counter-intuitive to spend an extra day after a work trip that took me within an hour of Glacier National Park with the goal of spending an afternoon bicycling on pavement instead of putting my feet on a trail.

View in Glacier National Park

As someone who typically hikes and backpacks in wilderness areas or the more remote areas of national forest, the hustle and bustle of national parks is always a bit amusing to me. Arriving early in the afternoon on an overcast Saturday, I was able to get one of the last sites at Sprague Creek Campground (which filled up later in the evening) and awkwardly set up camp inside my vehicle before prepping for the ride up Going to the Sun Road. The forecast called for rain overnight and into the next day, with temperatures in the upper 30s in the morning. Needless to say, sleeping in the back of a Honda Element was a much more luxurious option than packing up a wet tent in a cold rain the next morning.

Lake McDonald Glacier National Park

Rolling out of the campground on my trusty touring bike was a blissful feeling. No more driving for the rest of the evening, just turning pedals and trying to keep my eyes on the road as mountains, waterfalls, and expansive valleys competed for my attention. The first few miles from the campground to Avalanche Creek were open to vehicles, but traffic was fairly light considering it was a weekend. Once past the gate at Avalanche Creek, the real fun began. There were plenty of other cyclists, but no other cars. None. No looking over the shoulder, no low-level anxiety about inattentive drivers, no exhaust fumes. Just open road and other cyclists. Given my late start, many of the cyclists I saw were on the downhill stretch of their ride while I labored up the mellow grade towards Logan Pass.

Biking Going to the Sun Road Montana

The temperature was in the mid-50s, which was perfect for biking steadily uphill. The flip side was that coming downhill would be rather chilly, so my saddlebags bulged with two pairs of gloves, a synthetic puffy jacket, and rain gear. Rather than hindering the view, the overcast sky and low hanging clouds made for dramatic lighting and a backdrop for the peaks that enhanced instead of obscured the mountains.

Biking During Spring in Glacier

The steeper sections of the climb to Logan Pass, especially those after The Loop, gave me plenty of time to concentrate on the surrounding panorama as I doggedly progressed toward the snow line. The road is open to cyclists as far as they would like to go and the natural place to turn around is where plowing has ended and several feet of snow remain. I took a few victory pictures at the snowline, which was around 17 miles from the campground and over 2,000 feet higher.

Closed Going to the Sun Road

The descent was simply thrilling. Watching mountain scenery sped by as I flew downhill at a safe but respectable clip without having to worry about inconveniencing motorists was sublime and, sadly, came to and end all too quickly. Miles that had taken me over two hours to gain were lost in a quarter of the time and I soon found myself pedaling easily along the flatter sections towards Lake McDonald and the campground.

Cycling to Logan Pass

Although my car camping skills were a bit rusty, I had made an effort in regard to food and drink. Soon after pulling back into camp, I was snacking on cheese and crackers, sipping wine, and waiting for water to boil for a heaping serving of ravioli and pesto. Views of Lake McDonald made my al fresco dining experience five-star. Once dinner was over, the increasingly dreary weather and my tired muscles compelled me to get in my sleeping bag fairly early.

The next morning I awoke to enjoy the fruits of my decisions, both good and bad. Sleeping in the vehicle was a good decision, as a cold rain poured over the campground while I made coffee from the comfort of my sleeping bag. Not stretching in any meaningful sense after returning to camp was not a good decision, especially combined with a four-hour drive home. But perhaps the best decision was to have broken out of my hiking-only focus on outdoor recreation that been all-consuming in recent months. The ride the previous day was one of the most soul-swelling and rejuvenating things I could recall doing recently. That recognition inspired another decision that morning – a goal to make an early-season ride on Going to the Sun Road an annual event.

Information: The park’s webpage on bicycling, which also contains links to the Road Status page, is the best place to get started on planning your bicycling trip:

Best Time to Go: Mid-May to June offer pleasant weather and most of the road should be open to bikes by then, although this depends on the year and plowing progress made by road crews. Weekends are best because the road crews are not working, but can be a bit more crowded.

Getting There: Bicyclists can start in West Glacier and travel east, or at St. Mary and travel west. Beginning in mid-May a free shuttle with room for bikes runs from Apgar near West Glacier to Avalanche Creek (where the vehicle closure is typically in place).

Maps: The basic park brochure map is sufficient for this adventure. Alternatively Trails Illustrated 215 is better suited for additional exploration in the park.

Susan Dragoo

“What are some of the more scenic trails in the area?” my friend Joan asked a local man at a hiking store in Sedona, Arizona.

“All of them. They’re all scenic. Everywhere you look is scenic,” he said with a well-practiced manner, unable to hide his weariness with such questions. Even the trail map on display at the store was marked in bold black ink with exclamatory statements: “It’s scenic!!” “The views are amazing!” To say the least, it became apparent that we weren’t the first out-of-towners to ask the locals such seemingly innocent questions about hikes in the area.

Sedona Dayhkes

But after a few days in Sedona, I became more sympathetic to his sentiment, if not his attitude. Everywhere you look, it is scenic. Not just scenic, but grand. Magnificent is not too strong a word. Line up all the synonyms for “breathtaking” that you can because they all apply. Red rock spires ring the city, sandstone formations call to mind distant castles and alien landscapes, and it’s all made more dramatic when viewed in the golden light of sunrise and sunset. Limpid, turquoise waters flow south through Sedona’s mystical Oak Creek Canyon to the Verde River.

And, amid all this scenery, there are hiking trails everywhere. Literally, everywhere. In four days, Joan and I could only sample a few. But they were good and, yes, they were scenic. All of them are within the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness and three (Bear Mountain, Devil’s Bridge, and West Fork) are rated among the top 15 Sedona hikes by the Great Sedona Hikes guidebook.

Bear Mountain:

Hiking up Bear Mountain in Sedona Arizona

This strenuous, out-and-back hike involved 2,100 feet of ascent over about 2.5 miles and the views were well worth it. The literature contains several differing estimates of the elevation gain, but my GPS measured 2,100 feet, consistent with the Great Sedona Hikes guidebook. The descent was actually more difficult than the ascent, with many steep, sketchy spots along the trail. We experienced some light rain, and tiny hail at the 6,444-foot summit. This would definitely not be a trail for a rainy day! Total round trip mileage was almost 5 miles, which we did in about 4 1/2 hours.

Palatki Ruins:

Palatki Ruins Cliff Dwellings

A visit to these Sinagua ruins was good for a rest day after Bear Mountain. It is an easy walk to cliff dwellings and rock art, totaling about 1.2 miles. Make a reservation for a guided tour at (928) 282-3854. Take your time and soak up the interesting lore (and speculation) from the knowledgeable docents.

Devil’s Bridge:

Devil's Bridge Sedona Hike

Ending at the largest natural stone arch in the Sedona area, this trail attracts a lot of tourists — most of whom don’t seem to have a clue what they’ve gotten themselves into. It’s an easy trail with some steep climbing at the end, 4.4 miles round trip from the Mescal Trail parking area. You may have to wait your turn to get out on the bridge for a photo, and don’t miss the short and less traveled trail to see the bridge from below.

Long Canyon:

Long Canyon Trail Sedona

In Long Canyon, we attempted to find a cliff dwelling I’d read about, located about 0.4 mile off trail and behind the “Ice Cream Cone” formation. After some slickrock scrambling and brambly bushwhacking, we gave up. I know it’s there but couldn’t find the right access point. It was otherwise an easy and enjoyable out-and-back hike, a little less than 5 miles round trip.

West Fork, Oak Creek Canyon:

West Fork Trail Oak Creek Sedona

It’s no wonder this mellow trail is one of the most popular hikes in the area. Its beauty combines red rock canyons, clear cool waters, and tall pine forest. Wear shoes you can wade in so you can enjoy the 13 creek crossings with abandon. You’ll see widely varying estimates of the distance to the trail’s end (where the canyon narrows and the footpath disappears into the creek), but my GPS said it was 4 miles. With side trips off trail to explore the creek, our round trip distance was about 8.4 miles. But don’t worry about the distance, take your time and enjoy this magical spot.

In four days, my friend and I barely scratched the surface of Sedona’s abundant hiking, but it was enough to get acquainted with the geography of the area and whet our appetites for more. And when we return, we’ll certainly know which trails are scenic, because we have it on good authority that it’s every single one.

Recommended Guidebook: Great Sedona Hikes, Revised 4th Edition, William Bohan and David Butler

More Information can be found at the Bear Mountain, Palatki Ruins, Devil's Bridge, Long Canyon, and Oak Creek Forest Service pages.


There are certain trails which, when hiked in certain seasons, can be so blissfully pleasant as to seem almost otherworldly. Each step is a pleasure. Every view is breathtaking. The scents of the forest are almost intoxicating. Chirping birds, chattering squirrels and rushing creeks create a soundtrack that is almost orchestral. Spending unhurried time in nature seems to be one of the most refreshing things humans can do for themselves and one of the few activities which consistently pays out rewards greater than the time and effort entered. With an eye towards those indescribable and abstract rewards, I headed to a favorite trail in the Bitterroot Mountains for a quick overnight trip.

Blodgett Canyon

Multiple waterfalls, a distant natural arch, innumerable eye-catching rock formations, dramatic cliffs, and a charming campsite beside a cascade conveniently located at the edge of the snowline made the first five miles a fantastic early season hike that left little to be desired. Since I knew hiking any further than the campsite would involve treacherous and unpleasant postholing (which I’d had enough of on a prior trip to the Welcome Creek Wilderness), I walked with a complete absence of haste and fished at two appealing pools without success. These breaks served as a nice refresher in tying and untying knots and generally reassuring myself that I could still manage to get a fly onto the water more often than in the branches of riparian trees and shrubs (although that ratio could stand some improvement). 

Blodgett Creek Waterfall - Fishing Along the Way

Before packing up after my second attempt at fishing, I paused to appreciate the sound and movement around me. The creek roared through the rugged canyon bottom and reverberated off the cliffs that jutted out of the north slope; birdsong filled the air; the forest seemed to hum with the energy of spring. The sun was warm on my face, yet a chilly wind blew down the canyon from the higher elevations where it was for all intents and purposes still winter.

I strolled across talus slopes, relishing the complete exposure to the sun, and through dense coniferous forest that diffused the light into a soothing illuminative force that emanated from nowhere in particular. I crossed several small seasonal channels that emanated an urgent verdancy, as if they knew they would dry up once the snow melted and the relentless summer sun beat down. Some sections of the trail were still covered with firm snow that made for easy hiking, but for the most part I was walking on dirt. This allowed me to make good time and even with the breaks for fishing I found myself at the first large waterfall on Blodgett Creek. I’d camped near this waterfall, which blasts through a narrow chasm, twice before but had decided to push up to a second waterfall that cascaded rather than plunged and camp there instead.

Backpacking Blodgett Canyon Montana

I arrived at my destination just as the afternoon began its long downhill stretch to dusk and busied myself with the mundane yet joyful chores of setting up camp and establishing a home for the night. Given the nonthreatening forecast – negligible chance of precipitation, highs in the low 60s, lows in the upper 20s – I opted to bring a tarp and bivy sack shelter system with me on this trip. I usually relegate this system to my bikepacking trips, but figured I’d take it along and enjoy a lighter load. As I struggled to achieve appropriate tension in the ridgeline of the tarp and realized I would need a jackhammer to get stakes in the rocky ground, any satisfaction in weight savings had shifted to frustration. Finally, 15 minutes longer and a dozen more curse words than it would have taken me to set my solo tent up, I had managed to cobble together a reasonable excuse for a shelter using rocks to anchor out the guy lines. Needless to say, I was reminded of exactly why I had exited the tarp phase I briefly entered a few years back when experimenting with ultralight backpacking. When a piece of gear takes twice as long to erect and seems to require a background in trigonometry and structural engineering, offers two-thirds the protection, with its primary redeeming factor being that it weighs half as much (but causes three times the headaches), I struggle to think of it as a superior piece of equipment.

Backpacking Tarp

After my battle with the tarp was complete, I gathered water for the night – a task in which my chances of immediate success were fairly high. Filling up my bottles and water bladder beside the cascade was exhilarating. Spray from the rushing stream misted up and shifting winds occasionally blew it across my face. The cascade produced a cacophony that was an audible equivalent of the myriad and enchanting drops, rapids and sluices that were so visually enchanting. Such unanticipated moments of immersion and bliss were perfect reminders of backpacking’s inimitable appeal.

An abundance of dead and downed wood, a readymade fire ring, and the slight chill in the air made not having a fire seem almost sacrilegious, so I set about gathering and sorting various limbs and branches. In only a few minutes the necessary piles of kindling and wood of increasingly larger diameters was assembled and, after a brief snack, felt like I could dedicate much of the rest of the evening to leisurely exploring around camp, reading, and casually soaking up the atmosphere. These activities, with a significant amount of time devoted to photographing the landscape, occupied me until my stomach compelled me to light the stove and make a simple but filling dinner.

Sunset Throught the Forest and Over the Creek

With a full stomach and a light heart, I struck a match and lit the fire just as the sun began to fall behind the mountains at the head of the canyon. Once the fire was stable, I brewed up some tea to enjoy while I read “Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman. I felt a bit guilty taking the vintage (1900) edition of this book of poetry with me, but poems such as “By the Bivouac’s Fitful Flame” made me feel like the book was more at home out in the woods than on a bookshelf and that it was perhaps the most perfect companion for this particular trip. Flames, poetry, and the pleasant feeling of bare feet warmed by coals under a starry sky led me to delay retiring to my sleeping bag until it became more work to keep my eyes open than to give in and prepare camp for the night and walk over to the tarp.

I slept adequately but intermittently, grateful for the background noise of the cascade which quickly lulled me back to sleep when I found myself awake. Opting to enjoy coffee from my sleeping bag, I took my time and let the sun warm the canyon before doing a quick exploratory hike downstream to check for additional cascades. I didn’t have to go far before running into an impressive section of the creek where water slid down sheer rock after leaving the turbulent path created by a jumble of boulders and then continued its downward path in another section of rocks of all shapes and sizes. Returning to camp but reluctant to finish packing and leave, I postponed my departure by making a cup of tea to sip while contemplating my surroundings. I knew the longer I stayed the harder it would be to leave, so I forced myself to push through the bittersweet inevitability of leaving such a beautiful place and headed down the trail. 

After a quick downhill mile, I paused by a pool in the stream created by a logjam and carefully scouted for trout. Sure enough, there were several swimming in the depths of the pool but they were incredibly skittish and none headed for the surface to feast on the few insects that buzzed through the air and occasionally landed on the water. I tried my luck anyways and set up my Tenkara fly rod and line, which is a process so simple and easy that it makes me think I must be forgetting something. Despite my best efforts, the fish were decidedly uninterested in what I was offering and several passersby had kindly commented that it was indeed rather early in the season to be fishing, but wished me luck.

Blodgett Creek Cascade

As I contemplated admitting defeat and easing down the trail, the unmistakable sound and telltale circle of a fish snatching a fly off the surface at the upstream end of the pool caught my attention. With renewed determination and enthusiasm, I slowly moved toward where the action was and scouted the waters for a few minutes before tossing my fly towards a trout I spotted at the head of the pool. The first few casts didn’t catch its eye, but one landed at the perfect spot on the current and the trout slowly rose as the fly drifted through the pool. Suddenly, that most beautiful burst of water – a trout snatching a dry fly – appeared and the fish was on the line. A quick landing and release and I continued upstream, where I quickly snagged my fly on a log jam, nearly fell in the frigid water trying to get the fly loose, then broke the tippet. I decided to end on the high note of the catch and not the low note of the snapped line and headed down the trail.

Spring Hiking and Wildflowers, Bitterroot Mountains

I tried to be a discerning angler, but it wasn’t long before I paused to fish another pool. Several trout were rising and I landed one quickly before entering into a long stretch of no action. So it goes. I suppose fishing is like hiking in certain ways – it’s not always about the destination (the catch), the journey (waving around a fishing pole in a beautiful place) is sometimes the most important aspect. 

With the high country still snowbound, and likely to remain so until mid-summer, trips like this one provide a great opportunity to stretch the legs and enjoy the shorter journeys and smaller fish, to admire the mountain scenery from the valley floor a bit longer, and to simply enjoy being alive and outside.


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Spring has sprung and in Colorado that means drying trails and couloirs packed with stable, hard snow. In go the ski boots and from the closet come trail shoes and mountaineering boots. Sadly, my last pair of shoes died a grizzly death at the hands (feet?) of my extra-wide pinky knuckle because I was too lazy to lace them correctly. Below are my tips on funny looking lacing for funny looking feet.

Altra Lone Peak 2.5 Mesh Wear

My 2016 Lone Peak 2.5's - ready for the trash bin thanks to a 2" long hole.

Altra Lone Peak 3.0 - How to Lace Hiking Shoes

Fresh Lone Peak 3.0's - they look so helpless!

Since it was about time to get down to it I figured I'd share what works for me and add in some resources at the end since everyone's feet are different. I generally have two problems with shoes - my wide right forefoot and slippery heels. I have learned to address these issues by lacing my footwear to reduce tension in the front of the shoe and lock down tension at the base of the ankle. First I'll show what I do on my Altra Lone Peak trail shoes, then move to mountaineering boots since boot lacing tends to be different than glorified sneakers.  Keep in mind, lacing techniques only go so far and still require a lot of in-store fitting with various brands.

The first technique is straightforward - simply skip some laces where the shoe is too narrow. The tension will still pull down on the front of your shoes but allow some extra width. If this doesn't add enough width, you can try leaving the lace looser there by tying a surgeon's knot (begin by looping your laces together as if you were starting to tie your shoes, but wrap around an extra turn) at the top to allow you to tighten only the upper laces.

Hiking Shoe Lacing Tips

Skipping loops can add width where you need it.  

Next I want to address my heel slip by tying a heel lock. The idea is to bring tension from the base of the ankle down through the heel to prevent the foot from moving up and down in the shoe. Regular lacing only brings tension into the sides. I start by lacing the shoe up to the top hole:

Skipping Laces for Wide Feet Trail Runners

Next I make a loop:

Trail Runner Lacing

Then pass the opposite lace through the loop:

Backpacking Shoe Lacing - Heel Lock

Tension the laces and you should notice more downward pressure on the top of your foot instead of the usual sideways squeeze.

I also have the same problems on my mountaineering boots (Scarpa Charmoz), which use a different lacing system and come up higher on my ankle. The first step is easy enough - simply find where your foot is too wide for the boot and skip the nearest laces:

Lacing with Mountaineering Boots

The heel lock is a little trickier since these eyelets are open at the back. We can get a similar effect by skipping the laces closest to where your ankle starts:

Heel Lock

Then loop the opposite laces through and tightening up:

Finishing the Heel Lock Lacing on Mountaineering Boots

That's what I do, but you likely have much different issues so here are some resources that might work better for your funny feet and hopefully something here works for you: A great video covering the heel lock and several additional techniques, endless combinations available on Ians Shoelace Site, and lastly a more British approach to locking down the heel. If not - post in the comments!


“Looks like you’re going in circles” is a way to tell someone that they're wasting their time. Talking in circles generally isn’t a compliment either. However, walking in a circle can be a good thing for backpackers, provided they’re walking around something interesting. Think about it. Logistics become pretty easy. No ride back to the start is required. In the case of the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT), walking in a circle is a great experience.

Hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail

As you may have guessed from the trail’s name, the TRT involves walking around Lake Tahoe. The largest alpine lake in North America, Tahoe is 22 miles long and 12 miles wide, sitting on the border of California and Nevada and nestled against the Sierra Nevada. The trail itself is approximately 170 miles, so there is more to it than just keeping the lake to your right. In fact, much of the route is in National Forest with other parks and wilderness areas thrown in for good measure. Quite often, the lake itself is out of sight.

The TRT is a great choice for the first-time distance hiker; or anyone that wants a beautiful hike with a minimum of logistical issues to deal with. If you’ve left your car at the start, it should be handy when you finish. As far as resupply, stops in South Lake Tahoe and Tahoe City are well spaced and convenient to the trail. If you’re flying to the trail, shuttles are established to either town from the Reno airport. Summer and early fall feature consistently dry weather. A permit is required for the Desolation Wilderness, but there are no quotas for thru-hikers. Plus, it can be had with a phone call and $5 or $10, depending upon your hiking speed. You’ll also need a California Campfire Permit. That one is free for passing an Internet quiz.

TRT Thruhiking-Boulders and Forest

For my spin around the lake I flew into Reno early last September and caught a shuttle to Tahoe City, which was to be my starting point. After checking into a local hotel, my first stop was Alpenglow outdoor store, right down the street. There I got a fuel canister, friendly service, and a big load of concern. The guy at the counter said he heard the trail was dry for 50 miles past Watson Lake (my first night stop). Crap! Fifty miles is a helluva long way to carry water. That much weight in my pack would be a backbreaker for me. (As I mentioned, long sections of the TRT are nowhere near Lake Tahoe. It’s not like I would be able to dip a cup in the lake whenever I got thirsty.) I made a phone call to the Tahoe Rim Trail Association and the helpful folks there confirmed that their website was correct; the trail was dry, but not that dry. Despite the ongoing drought there would be water where I was planning on it with the longest dry stretch around 13 miles. Whew. It was definitely time to head to the Tahoe Mountain Brewing Company to settle my nerves.

In the morning it was a short walk through town to the trail. It immediately started climbing from the 6,225 foot elevation of the lake, but nothing terribly steep. Soon I was already getting occasional views of Lake Tahoe as the trail bounced between 7,000 and 8,000 feet for the first 20+ miles. This, and all sections of the trail, was well marked and fairly easy to follow. For planning water and camp stops I carried the Blackwoods Press Pocket Atlas of the trail and also downloaded Guthook’s TRT Guide onto my phone. Though not an exact match, they were close in terms of mileage.

Once the Mt. Rose Wilderness Area was reached, the next 7 miles was a climb through open terrain to reach the summit of Relay Peak. At 10,330 feet, the peak is the highest point on the trail with some great nearby views of the lake. Another area highlight across the north shore was Galena Falls, a 60 foot cascade that was still flowing well in spite of the drought. The spot is popular with day hikers and was busy as I passed through. Traveling down the east side of Lake Tahoe was scenic and relatively easy with no major climbs or drops, but water was definitely a concern. Side hikes to water hydrants added to the mileage. I had access to water each day, but there were dry camps.

Hiking Near South Lake Tahoe

After 80 miles and five days of hiking I reached South Lake Tahoe. The town can be accessed by walking a couple miles down a steep road or catching a $2 bus located at a stop a short side hike off the TRT. Take the bus. South Tahoe is a great town to resupply with hotels at any price point, Sports LTD for fuel and other equipment, a grocery and plenty of restaurants. And, they are all within easy walking distance of the transit center. There’s even casinos across the street in Stateline, Nevada if you’re so inclined. I stayed at the Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel. It was a tad pricey for a hiker stop, but very nice. In addition, it was next door to the transit center, had a laundry on site, held a resupply box for me and had a $2 happy hour. Hard to beat. With rain scheduled for the next day I took a zero. It rained for 15 minutes and was cloudy much of the day. It would have been a great day to hike, but my legs weren’t complaining about the day off. It turned out that my zero day had the only significant cloud cover of the entire trip. Bring sunscreen.

After catching the first bus of the morning it was back to the trail. Although I was at the southern end of the lake, I continued walking south. This is where the TRT picked up some mileage by continuing past the lake for another 25 miles or so. Through the area, the views were not the lake but mountains, impressively still holding snow in mid-September. From there on out, lakes and snowmelt streams were abundant enough that running dry was no longer a concern.

Dick's Lake TRT Hike

At mile 109, the trail turned back north, and also joined with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). The two trails shared the tread for the next 50 miles. I met a few southbound PCT hikers on that stretch; all noticeably faster and younger than myself. Mile 121 provides another opportunity to resupply and get ice cream at Echo Lake, if you arrive before Labor Day. All I could do was stare through the window before shuffling on into the Desolation Wilderness. Here was the section that required the permit and it was worth the price of admission. The mountains and valleys had been scoured by glaciers that emptied the area of topsoil. The most dramatic spot was Aloha Lake surrounded by stark granite shorelines and snowy surrounding mountains.

Hiking on the TRT Dicks Pass

The great views continued as I headed north. Several beautiful lakes beckoned me to slow down, but I kept moving. There was more great scenery ahead. I did take a long break at Dicks Pass where I dined with marmots. At 9,400 feet, there were remarkable views in every direction. Shortly after Desolation Wilderness, there’s Granite Chief Wilderness with tremendous views of its own including Twin Peaks. It was near there that I made my last camp. It was a cool, clear night followed by a sunny day; the same weather I had on every day of the trip. The main difference was the start of fall color as I began the final drop into Tahoe City, where I had begun hiking eleven days and 170 miles before. At that point I was only a half mile from my hotel which was holding a change of clothes for me from my earlier stay. In the morning, a shuttle arrived right in front to carry me back to the Reno Airport. Logistically, this was one of the easiest hikes ever; just go in a circle. However, with a trail and scenery that rivaled any I’ve seen, it was no waste of time.

Granite Chief Wilderness on the Tahoe Rim Trail

Information: A great source of information to start planning is the trail’s support organization website.

Two permits are required to hike the entire trail. A California Campfire Permit can be had for free by passing a short test. This is required even to use a camp stove. (Campfires themselves are prohibited through most of the Tahoe Basin.) A Desolation Wilderness Permit can be obtained at However, there are quotas in place during the busy season. Thru-hikers can avoid any limit by calling the Forest Service directly at (530) 543-2694 no more than two weeks before the date they plan to enter the area. My permit for two nights cost $10.

Best Time to Go: Generally the trail is snow free from Mid-July to Mid-September. However, with the large snowpack this year, it would be a good idea to contact the Tahoe Rim Trail Association closer to your planned hike to get an idea of how the “melt” is progressing. Water and mosquitoes both become more scarce as the season progresses.

Getting There: From Reno, NV to Tahoe City take I-80 West to CA-89 South. From Reno to South Lake Tahoe take US-395 South to US-50 West. Both cities are served by regularly scheduled shuttles from the Reno airport. More information on shuttles is available here and here.

Books: Tahoe Rim Trail by Tim Hauseman is a complete guide and endorsed by the TRT Association.

Maps: Maps are available to download here. On the trail I carried the Tahoe Rim Trail Pocket Atlas by Blackwoods Press, and a Tom Harrison map is also available. In addition, I downloaded Guthook’s TRT Guide onto my iPhone.


It is doubtful that T.S. Eliot had backpackers in mind when he wrote that “April is the cruellest month”. Literary context aside, I’ve found this observation to be unpleasantly accurate in regard to outdoor recreation in Montana. After the short days and cold nights of winter, April tantalizes eager hikers with longer days, blue skies and mild temperatures in the valleys. The skis are put away, but the trails are either too snowy or too muddy to provide much enjoyment. Conditions on most rivers, not to mention the combined water and air temperature, are lacking in the eyes of all but the brave and the bold.

Early Spring Montana Hiking

Even though snowline is only a few miles from the mouths of most canyons in the mountains of the Northern Rockies, the temptation to get out and backpack is difficult to resist. I yielded to such temptation on a recent April weekend and headed over to the east side of the Sapphire Mountains to a low-elevation trailhead for the Welcome Creek Wilderness. Unlike Glacier National Park or the Beartooth Mountains, the landscape of Welcome Creek Wilderness does not draw visitors from far and wide – or even many visitors from nearby. Without lakes, waterfalls, or much in the way of alpine scenery, Welcome Creek Wilderness comes up short in the scenery department when compared to its neighbors.

Despite its lack of scenic highlights, this wilderness offered me a decent place to stretch my legs fairly early in the season and solitude was guaranteed almost as surely as sunset. As long as asphalt isn’t involved, I’ve never been overly critical of most landscapes, opting instead to simply enjoy the subtleties of nature when the superlatives weren’t available. I planned to hike about five miles up Welcome Creek to Carron Cabin, a shelter built during the mining days of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that I’d visited two years prior on an equally ill-advised early season outing.

Entering the Wilderness Area

I arrived mid-day at an empty trailhead, strolled across Rock Creek on a nifty suspension bridge, crossed the swollen channel of Welcome Creek on a downed tree, and a few steps later passed the wilderness boundary sign. Things would go figuratively downhill from here, although the trail gradually gained around 1,000 feet of elevation in the five miles to the cabin. Perhaps a mile in I hit the first of many snowdrifts, each with their own charm, at the base of talus slopes. The snow was packed down in places by previous visitors and didn’t provide much difficulty (that would come later, when the snow deepened), but it did require that I slow my pace a bit. I continued on at a decent stride, with the soundtrack of rushing water, chattering squirrels, and chirping birds distracting me from the inconveniences of the footpath.

Rock Creek Suspension Bridge Montana

After crossing Welcome Creek on a well-built and rustic log bridge, roughly the halfway point of my trip to the cabin, I took a break to drink some water and have a snack before starting a section of trail which I had found to be especially pleasant on my prior trip. Traversing the hillside about 100 feet above Welcome Creek, this section of trail was less brushy than the creek-bottom trail that preceded it and afforded more expansive views of the steep canyon. No more than a quarter-mile into this stretch of trail I hit snow and could see where wiser but less determined hikers had turned back. Short on wisdom and overflowing with determination, I started a slog to the cabin that saw me postholing in knee-deep snowdrifts, scrambling over and under downfall, enjoying a few hundred feet of snow-free trail, then repeating the order with limited variation for the next two miles.

Trail Along Creek in Welcome Creek Montana

The workout of postholing through snow with a backpack, climbing over a downed tree, then postholing some more is one that no machine in a gym can emulate. A combination of exertion and anticipation led me to see mirages of the cabin after about an hour, with every dark spot and cluster of downed trees manifesting itself as the outline of the linear needle in the organic haystack. Just as I started to wonder if this trip had been a good idea after all, I reached the cabin and set down my pack.

Backpacking Near Carron Cabin

Dilapidated but still retaining its basic structural elements, the Carron Cabin has an intriguing presence. A quintessential “relic of a bygone era”, the cabin seems to embody a simultaneously charming and haunting corner of Americana that is worthy of a more eloquent and thoughtful description than I can provide in this humble narrative. While not exceedingly well-documented, a collection of papers at the University of Montana Archives (the Bud Moore Papers; Moore was a trapper, forester and general outdoorsman in Montana for much of the second half of the 20th century) contains several journals from a person who spent a significant amount of time trapping, hunting and hiking in the area – with the permission of the optimistically named mining claimant Lucky Hancock – prior to it becoming a designated wilderness area. Additionally, there are several digitized photographs of the cabin from the 1970s available online as part of the Montana Memory Project.

While the cabin would provide some shelter to an exceedingly desperate hiker, an absolutely ideal campsite is situated beneath a stately Ponderosa pine behind the cabin. Sheltered from the snow, this spot was bone dry in many places and only slightly damp in others – a much more preferable alternative to setting up camp on snow or taking my chances trying to get cozy in the cabin. 

Camping in a “rustic” miners cabin has a certain charm to it, but my sober analysis of the situation dissuaded me from doing this based on the following points: I didn’t have enough Ibuprofen to deal with the headaches I would have from hitting my head on the low doorframe when going in and out, I couldn’t remember if my tetanus shot was up to date (the cabin could be included as an outlier on the Rust Belt due to the abundance of rusting tools, nails, and other artifacts), and I didn’t want to take my chances with getting hantavirus from its resident rodents. I set up camp quickly, stretched, and then leaned back against the pine and watched the black shadows of trees stretch out onto the perfectly white canvas created by lingering snow on the steep talus slope on the opposite side of Welcome Creek.

Welcome Creek Camping

As twilight settled into the canyon I did some of my final stretches for the evening and cooked dinner, enjoying pasta and tuna with spinach and mushrooms. I didn’t feel like struggling to start a fire, or struggling in general, so I wound the evening down with a few sips of scotch, some music, and some tea candles. The photocopied pages of the guidebook I brought along contained a few paragraphs titled “Lawlessness on Welcome Creek” which described the bust of the nearby gold boomtown of Quigley, the resulting horse thievery, and an outlaw named Frank Brady who was killed by sheriffs near Welcome Creek in 1904. Watching gray clouds float through the dark sky while “Jack Straw” by the Grateful Dead drifted through my ears allowed me to ponder how the song paired perfectly with the history of the area. The lyrics about crime and desperation in the West seemed to almost come from the mouths of the ghosts of the men who had lived, worked, thieved, and died in the thousands of places in the West with rugged landscapes and rugged histories, of which Welcome Creek Wilderness was just one:

We used to play for silver, now we play for life 
One’s for sport and one’s for blood at the point of a knife
Now the die is shaken, now the die must fall . . .

Leaving Texas, fourth day of July
Sun so hot, clouds so low
The eagles filled the sky
Catch the Detroit Lightning out of Santa Fe
Great Northern out of Cheyenne, from sea to shining sea

Gotta get to Tulsa, first train we can ride
Got to settle one old score, and one small point of pride . . .

Jack Straw from Wichita cut his buddy down
Dug for him a shallow grave and laid his body down
Half a mile from Tucson by the morning light
One man gone and another to go, my old buddy you’re moving much too slow

I entered my tent to go to sleep just as a crescent moon rose above the mountainside and slept the type of deep sleep that is a luxury any time, but especially so when backpacking. I felt fortunate to awake feeling well-rested, as I wanted to start hiking before the sun came out and warmed the snow up too much. I enjoyed some coffee, read a chapter or two in the paperback Western novel I’d brought along, and generally just enjoyed being alive and breathing in fresh mountain air for a few minutes before packing up.

Carron Cabin Welcome Creek Wilderness

Other than the distinct pleasure of putting my warm feet into damp, cold boots the hike out was relatively unremarkable. I was able to get into a good rhythm hiking through the tracks I’d made on my way in and made decent time. As is always the case with backpacking trips, I arrived back at the trailhead in greater spirits then when I had left and without an ounce of regret. However, the postholing and sloppy conditions of the trail did remind me that there is such a thing as "too early" in the season for backpacking in certain landscapes. Whether or not I will remember this lesson next April is anyone's guess.


Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that a one-sized fits all approach to gear simply doesn’t work for me – whether it is a mountain bike or a sleeping bag. Finally in 2015, after many years of utilizing a men’s sleeping bag (which dominate the higher end sleeping bag market) I decided to learn from my mistakes, branch out from the mold, and purchase a down sleeping bag designed specifically for women from Seattle-based manufacturer Feathered Friends, who currently offer 9 different women’s-specific models in their complete sleeping bag lineup.

Feathered Friends Petrel UL 10 Degree Women's Sleeping Bag Review.JPG

I opted for the 10 degree rated Petrel. As a cold sleeper who mostly overnights in the nearly always chilly higher elevations of the Rocky Mountains, I hoped would allow for a better night’s sleep than the 20 degree down bag I’d previously utilized. The Petrel 10 Degree Sleeping Bag is the warmest 3-season women’s sleeping bag that Feathered Friends offers, and as you might expect from the name of the company, it is a down bag made from 20-21 ounces of 950+ down fill. It features a cut with more room in the hips and less in the shoulders to fit the average woman better than your average men’s or unisex bag. Feathered Friends however, does state that their women’s cut has been well received by men as well.

Petrel Sleeping Bag Zipped with Hood Closed.JPG

For their women’s models, the company also adds a higher proportion of down fill to the bag and with more targeting the footbox. The bag comes in two different versions – the Petrel Nano features 20 and 30 denier outer/lining fabrics, while the Petrel UL reviewed here features 10 and 15 denier fabrics to save 2-3 ounces. In all cases, the shell fabric is breathable but water resistant. All versions of the Petrel are offered in multiple colors and small (fits up to 5’3”) and medium (up to 5’9”) sizes. The medium size UL here is listed with an average weight of 33 ounces – weighing an actual 33.5 ounces on the scale.

Petrel UL Unzipped and Loft.JPG

The first thing I noticed about the Petrel is just how lofty this bag is – we are talking about a 10 degree bag after all – which goes a long way towards warmth at night, but it can make packing a bit of a challenge. However, with a little work I’m still able to get this into an Exped Schnozzel (Feathered Friends does include a standard stuff sack and storage bag), and a 13 liter Sea to Summit UltraSil Dry Sack is also a great size that makes compression a bit easier to fit into my ULA Circuit while still keeping things dry.

Petrel Sleeping Bag Packed Size - Sea to Summit 13L Ultra-Sil.JPG

At night is where the loft pays off though. For my maximum comfort, I’d rate the bag warm into the 20s, but again, I sleep quite cold and have been known to stock up on the hot Nalgene bottles on chilly nights. Experiences with the rating will vary. However, to get it to the 10 degree mark I would indeed be adding in additional insulation, including thermals, hat/mittens, and a down jacket. If you’re a warmer sleeper and/or backpacking in warmer locales, the Feathered Friends Egret 20 (see a review of the Egret Nano 20 here in Issue 31) is also worth a look.

Trapezoidal Footbox -Feathered Friends Petrel UL.JPG

The two way zipper rarely snags (when a little care is used) and the snap at the top of the bag is an especially nice feature – no Velcro or fasteners to touch your nose and wake you up at night. The hood fits nicely, but seems a bit smaller than previous bags that I’ve owned. The bag’s draft tube and collar both work to seal in heat. While the overall fit is indeed a benefit, there are no more cold spots in the hips and too much cold space in the chest. However and oddly, the medium is rated to fit up to 5’9” and at 5’8” the bag does seem just a bit short lengthwise and I do have to remember to get my feet all the way to the bottom of the bag to have an ideal amount of room in the hood. As such I would really say it’s a 5’8” bag, and unfortunately this is the longest women’s bag that is offered by Feathered Friends. While with a tent over my head the odd spill and condensation are the main water issues to worry about, the shell fabric DWR and water repellency does a good job at keeping your insulation dry and warm till morning.

Feathered Friends Logo, DWR, Pertex Endurance 10 Denier Shell, Zipper and Snag Guard.JPG

While there are a few nitpicks regarding the bag - and the price tag is something to think about - as a cold sleeper I’ve greatly enjoyed backpacking with the Petrel and find that the women’s specific cut helps increase sleeping comfort and eliminates the cold spots that I’ve previously experienced with other men’s or unisex bags. The bag is on the bulky side which should be considered if you’re low on pack space, but taking the time to get the bag into an appropriate stuff sack and a little work – or taking the right pack – can mitigate the issue. Also, if you’re 5’9” or taller, this bag may not be the right fit for you. In the end though I’ve been very happy with the bag and staying warm at night goes a long way towards being ready to start the next day!

The Petrel Nano retails or $430 is the Nano version and $510 for the UL seen here. Find both here at


Unique among the seasons, winter wields the power to make many hiking destinations inaccessible. Roads are gated due to snow, mountain passes become snowbound and hazardous, and specific four-season gear is required in many regions for those venturing out in the winter months. Human-powered recreation is mostly left to snowshoers, skiers, snowboarders, and winter is also a good time to focus on cleaning gear, summer trip planning, fitness routines, racking up vacation time, and other hobbies. Getting away to a warmer locale for a few days or a week also doesn’t hurt if you’re able to accommodate the expense of time and money.

Cross Country Skiing in Lodgepole Pine Forest

Winter also has the singular ability to bring a feeling of wilderness and raw nature to places that feel mundane, even boring, in other seasons. Many of the bumpy and potholed forest roads flanked by endless lodgepole pines that are merely tolerated on drives to the trailhead in the summer become the proverbial “winter wonderland” with the addition of a few feet of snow. Putting on the cross-country skis and heading up one of these roads for a few miles to a scenic overlook that merited only a glance out the window before driving further a few months before becomes an expedition to a breathtaking picnic spot. A cabin that you could drive to in June is transformed into a rustic outpost where you can sit in quintessential tranquility and watch snow fall while a woodstove heats the tiny structure. 

Alturas Lake Idaho Frozen

Favorite trails suddenly take on an Arctic charm that highlights the rock and water features, especially when the water turns to ice. Animal tracks left in the snow can be examined with a clarity rarely provided in typical dirt patches on the trail. The play of light and reflections of the sun off the snow make for near-mystical conditions.

If you have the gear and experience to safely and comfortably do overnight trips in the winter months, the stargazing is incredible. The skies are can be exceedingly clear and the stars come out much earlier compared to the summer months. As long as you have the gear to stay comfortable in periods of inactivity in cold conditions, you can fit in some amazing stargazing between dinner and a reasonable bedtime. If you’re staying in a cabin or other structure, such as a lookout, you can head back inside to warm up, make some tea or hot chocolate, and head back out. The sky will be darker, the stars shining brighter, and you’ll be warmer. This back-and-forth can go on as long as your eyes stay open and the rewards always seem to be worth pushing through the sleepiness.

Backpacking Humburg Spires Wilderness Study Area Montana

If you’re lucky enough to live in a region with natural hot springs, visiting these in the winter can be a luxury almost impossible to describe. Sitting in jacuzzi-warm water, rich with minerals, and watching a frigid river run beneath snow-draped trees is a surefire way to put a smile on your face. The juxtaposition between the harsh and benevolent characteristics of nature are visibly, and physically, apparent.

Hot springs that would be crowded in the shoulder-season months due to their proximity roads and parking areas become much less visited. An easy stroll in the summer suddenly becomes a 1/4 mile epic in winter, requiring snowshoes and proper clothing to be comfortable in frigid temperatures until you’re able to immerse yourself in the water. As expected, however, the reward feels much richer and well-deserved.

Idaho Hot Springs Winter Hiking

For hikers who live in a region absent of the geothermal phenomenons that are required for hot springs but with sustained subfreezing temperatures, winter often presents the opportunity to see frozen waterfalls. Visiting a gushing waterfall in May and then returning in January to see it frozen from top to bottom provides a sublime comparison. In regions with dense ridgetop deciduous forests, such as many Eastern forests, the views in winter are much grander than in summer. Trails that have the “green tunnel” effect suddenly become much more open and the shadows and shapes created by the bare tree limbs become a spectacle in and of themselves.

Winter Alpenglow While Hiking in Montana

Certain “life list” destinations are at their most hospitable and enjoyable in the winter months. Big Bend National Park, Everglades National Park and Dry Tortugas National Park come to mind in this regards. Backpacking on Cumberland Island National Seashore in December is a particular treat – the crowds are low, the weather is mild, and the citrus trees are ripe. There’s something beautiful about getting to a campsite, setting down the pack, and picking an orange or grapefruit to enjoy with your oatmeal the next morning. 

While the coming of spring is an occasion for celebration, especially for those of us who reside in the northerly latitudes, winter has its merits. It offers a chance for skills to be honed, inimitable adventures to be had – such as moonlit cross-country skiing, familiar places to be experienced in a different atmosphere. If you weren’t able to appreciate the opportunities for solitude this past season, you’ll have a summer full of hiking to look forward to and plenty of time to plan for when the snow flies again.

For a detailed article on the "how to" of experiencing the outdoors in winter with many tips along the way, check out this Issue 26 article courtesy of @PaulMags.


Winter Giveaway

Note: This Giveaway Ended 3/15/17.

For our winter giveaway (and just in time!), we're giving away a new Helinox Chair Zero and the choice of any shirt or hat from the TrailGroove Store! This new camp comfort seating solution from Helinox is a comfortable chair that's both packable and light enough for those backpacking and hiking excursions where some extra comfort might be on your list of priorities - for more info on the Chair Zero, take a look here at REI and read our recent review

Just make sure you're subscribed to TrailGroove and then like this blog post to let us know you'd like to be included in the drawing. That's it! Be sure to check out a Premium Membership for more chances to win. Full details below.

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Our review Chair Zero

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Prior to becoming what could politely be described as a fanatical backpacker, I might have questioned the wisdom of spending as much on a sleeping bag as I would on a new full-sized mattress. But when your main hobby involves hiking around with everything on your back that you need to be safe and comfortable for days a time, your perspective on such purchases tends to shift. This shift in perspective directly influenced my decision to purchase a Marmot Plasma 30 degree down sleeping bag in spring of 2012. 

Marmot Plasma 30 Degree Sleeping Bag Review.JPG

The bag had a retail price of just over $400 dollars at the time which was slightly more than the monthly rent at my third floor, walk-up studio apartment in a Southeastern college town. I suppose I could look back on my purchase as an investment, since the price of down has skyrocketed and the bag now retails at almost $600. It was a bit hard to justify the purchase to myself, but between my obsessive devotion to backpacking and a modest but well-timed tax return, I made it happen. And five years later, I have no doubt that I made the right decision.

The first thing that struck me about the Plasma, and that still amazes me, is the lightness and quality of construction. At just 1 lb. and 7 ounces, it was a full pound lighter than my Marmot Pinnacle 15 degree bag and a more versatile piece of equipment for backpacking in the Southeast. The details, from the stitching to the Insotect Flow vertical baffles to the built-in pillow, were well-engineered and left nothing to be desired in terms of function or aesthetics. The quality of the down, which in the 2012 model was 900 fill (more recent models have featured 875 fill down with Down Defender water-resistant treatment), is nothing short of remarkable and allows for the impressive packability, minimal weight, and required warmth of a premium three-season sleeping bag.

Marmot Plasma 30 Down Sleeping Bag Packed, Fill Power, DWR, and Hood.JPG

I’ve spent approximately 100 nights in the Plasma and have been comfortable everywhere from creekside campsites in the southern Appalachians to mountain meadows in the Rockies. I most often pair the Plasma with a NeoAir 3/4 length pad in milder temperatures and opt for a NeoAir All-Season in colder temperatures. This combination has allowed me to be comfortable in the upper 20s to the mid 40s. Adding down booties and a down jacket has allowed me to use the bag as part of a sleep system into the low 20s, but analyzing the effectiveness of that type of mixing-and-matching is perhaps a bit beyond the scope of this congenial and non-scientific review. Although marketed as a 30-degree bag, the European Norm lower limit rating (the temperature at which the average man will sleep comfortably) is 33.6 degrees. However, with wool socks and a lightweight wool baselayer I've put dozens of nights in this bag at temperatures at or just below freezing (typically on a NeoAir All-Season pad, with a 4.9 R value) and haven't ever been uncomfortable.

The compressibility and durability of this bag are, in my opinion, two of its most stand-out features. When packed in a compression sack, like the Sea to Summit eVent dry bag, it takes up about as much space as a two-liter bottle and weighs less than half as much. After five years of packing it, unpacking it, and laying it down in shelters ranging from tents to tarps to bivys to Appalachian Trail shelters to abandoned US Forest Service lookouts, this bag shows hardly any signs or age or significant depreciation in loft. It still looks as inviting illuminated by headlamp when unzipping the tent after a long day now as it did when I put my first night in it.

Plasma 30 Sleeping Bag Packed Size in Compression Sack.JPG

While I’ve tried to “baby” this bag as much as possible, always making sure I wear baselayers in it to prevent transfer of body oils and dirt to the inner fabric, it has had some rough nights. Windblown snow or rain creeping under the tarp, slipping off the sleeping pad during a deep sleep and waking up off the ground cloth and in the dirt, and the surprise of seeing it blown into a fallen spruce tree from where I had carefully hung it to air out. The fabric shed windblown rain and snow as good as most entry-level rain jackets I’ve seen, and pretty much renders tent condensation a non-issue which hasn’t always been the case with my sleeping bags. The Pertex Quantum shell fabric has yet to show a tear or worn spot and the black outer shell helps a lot with drying it out in the morning when the inevitable dampness in humid conditions manifests itself.

Review - Marmot Plasma 30 Backpacking Under Tarp.JPG

For those accustomed to mummy bags, this bag has a regular-to-slimmer fit. It certainly isn’t as restrictive as some bags I’ve been in, but it also isn’t designed for practicing yoga poses in either. I tend to toss and turn a bit when sleeping and this bag has never seemed to hinder my nocturnal adjustments. For average users, this bag is cut in such a way that thermal efficiency is maximized without requiring a shoehorn to enter or exit the bag. The regular size fits users up to 6 feet tall and the long size fits persons up to 6’6” tall. The shoulder circumference of the regular is 60”, hip circumference is 58”, and the footbox circumference is 43”. As noted above, I’ve found these dimensions to be more than adequate for the average user. 

Zippers on sleeping bags tend to be best when you don’t notice them, as otherwise great bags can be ruined by dysfunctional zippers, and this “excellence by lack of distinction” is the case with the Marmot Plasma 30. It zips up and down quickly, rarely snags, and is of a slender and lightweight design that fits in with the overall vibe of the bag itself. A full-length draft tube follows the zipper and prevents any wind or chills from sneaking through. The two way zipper allows for venting, which allows for great thermal management and the ability to remain comfortable in a variety of temperatures. I tend to start most nights off with it slightly vented at the bottom, and then increase or decrease the opening as my comfort dictated. The zipper pull is actually pretty nifty looking and easy to grasp, which I suppose should be expected given the cost of the bag. 

Draft Tube and Zipper on the Marmot Plasma 30 Sleeping Bag.JPG

While the zipper is a notable feature precisely because it doesn’t make itself noteworthy, the outstanding design of the hood and draft collar requires specific and unequivocal praise. The ability to dial in just how much closure you would like is unbeatable. When needed, the draft collar and hood can be cinched down to allow for maximum heat retention; thanks to the brilliant design virtually no comfort is lost when this is done and claustrophobia can be kept to a minimum.

There are few pieces of gear that I can recommend as strongly as the Marmot Plasma 30 degree sleeping bag. It truly is an item where you get what you pay for (and unfortunately, as down prices trend upwards, it seems like paying more is to be expected) and what you get is a truly exceptional sleeping bag that will outlast most of the items in your backpacking kit. 

The Marmot Plasma 30 sleeping bag retails for $600, but you can often find it on sale Here at Backcountry (35% off at the time of the writing!), over at REI  (also on sale), and at For something a little warmer, check out the Plasma 15.


Helinox Chair Zero Review

After an introduction to lightweight backpacking chairs a few years ago, my philosophy on this admittedly somewhat superfluous (but many times well worth the weight) camp comfort item has generally remained unchanged; on longer trips where I’m moving daily and pack weight is of more concern the chair stays behind and any rock or log will do. For the amount of time that you’re actually in camp – and not inside your tent – carrying the weight is simply not worth it. But mental and physical comfort levels on when the extra comfort is worth the weight of course, will vary.

Helinox Chair Zero Review.JPG

But on shorter less ambitious trips, winter trips with extra time in camp and long nights, or those trips where I’ll be setting up camp for more than just one night in the same place, I’ve found various chairs like the Monarch Chair from Alite Designs (review) and more recently the Helinox Ground Chair (review) to be add a substantial amount of comfort to the backcountry camping experience. But even on these trips, the weight of these chairs is still cause for pause when getting your pack ready the night before. The Helinox Chair Zero is a recent release from Helinox that focuses on reducing that weight concern further, along with increasing comfort and packability.

Helinox Chair Zero Frame, Packed Size , Assembly, and Attachment Points.JPG

Like the Helinox Ground Chair, the Chair Zero has 4 legs for stability, but unlike the appropriately named Ground Chair the Chair Zero is designed for a higher, more upright sitting position (closer to a real chair) and through the use of a lighter weight, Dyneema gridstop fabric has managed to achieve a lighter weight all at the same time. Helinox specs the chair at 490 grams (17.3 ounces) without the stuff sack although many merchants list the chair as lighter. On my scale I measured 17.2 ounces for the chair (4.4 for the fabric and 12.8 for the poles) and add another .7 ounces if you want to bring along the stuff sack. (The stuff sack features one handed cord lock operation and even glow in the dark hardware) The shock-corded DAC aluminum pole frame of the chair assembles quickly, with the fabric seat attaching via pockets in 4 places (color coded - silver sides up) with a slight amount of effort, while all breaking down into a compact unit to easily fit in a backpack. The chair easily fits in a random available spot towards the top of my ULA Circuit’s main compartment. The chair will support up to 265 pounds – quite impressive for something collapsible and weighing in around just a pound.

Sitting in the Chair Zero from Helinox in Sandy Soft Ground.JPG

I did find that there are pros and cons to the upright design of the chair and the support system that’s used compared to the Ground Chair that I’ve been using for the past couple years. With the higher sitting height (the seat is 11 inches off the ground), the new Chair Zero is much, much easier to get in and out of, so if the hiking miles have been taking a toll on your knees it would be an excellent choice, and even either way it takes less of a “technique” to use with the bonus sitting height. I do find the sitting position a bit less comfortable however – once you are there – it’s more of an upright place to sit compared to more of a lounger like the Ground Chair. Additionally the small surface area on the feet of the Zero, combined with the fact that most of the weight seems to be balanced on the back two feet, makes this chair more prone to sink in soft ground. Rocky and firm ground and / or lighter weight users might be ideal, but an available accessory, the Helinox Ground Sheet for the Zero can be used with a weight penalty. It should be noted that the lighter fabric seat of the Zero could, if you somehow ended up with both chairs, be used with the Ground Chair's support structure to save 3.3 ounces off the normal 21.75 ounce weight of the Helinox Ground Chair .

Helinox Chair Zero.JPG

With the pros and cons that are involved, it all obviously comes down to personal preference and without a doubt, where the Chair Zero excels most is in the all-important weight and packability departments – perhaps the most important part considering we are talking about taking a chair with us while hiking and backpacking, after all. In the end, the Zero turns out to be a very pack-friendly chair that will only add about a pound to your hikes, or to those backpacking trips where you think the extra ~pound is worth a comfortable place to sit at the end of the day.

The Helinox Chair Zero retails for $120, but you can often find it for a deal here at REI, at, and over on



MSR Titan Kettle Review

Some of the best things in life are the simplest. For backpackers, there is a pleasure in sipping hot coffee, tea or cocoa from a sleeping bag that borders on the divine. And behind such a simple pleasure is a simple piece of a gear: a kettle, pot or some other means of warming water.

MSR Titan Tea Kettle Review.jpg

I upgraded from a lidless, stainless steel pot leftover from my brief time in Boy Scouts to the MSR Titan Kettle fairly early in my backpacking days and it has proven to be one of the best gear-related investments I made. As a college student it was a bit indulgent to spend $50 at the time (although I was further aided by a 20% off coupon at a local gear shop) on a lighter version of an item I already had, but the purchase is one I never regretted. 

Looking back, it was also perhaps the catalyst for many other gear investments (strategically timed during post-season sales) as I realized what a difference lightweight, quality gear makes in a hobby like backpacking. Although the MSR Titan Tea Kettle now retails at $59.95 (apparently I should have invested in titanium when I was in college) it still weighs just over 4 ounces, has a .85 liter capacity,  and is a piece of gear I’d recommend to any backpacker looking to build up their cooking kit.

MSR Titan in the Snow with Nalgene in Winter.jpg

After almost ten years of using this kettle, it has developed a nice coat of character (about as close to patina as titanium can get) but has lost absolutely nothing in regards to function. The handles on the pot still swivel perfectly and the handle for the lid works just as it did when new. The thoughtful design features, such as the slot for the coated lid handle to remain upright so it can be easily removed to check on the contents and the tight-fitting lid and perfectly engineered spout, make this a piece of gear that is hard to imagine improving and the size (0.85 liters) is just right for one person.

MSR Titan Silicone Insulated Lid and Pour Spout.jpg

I’ve cooked hundreds of meals in this kettle, from pasta to curry to rice dishes, and although I’ve had to pay careful attention when trying certain backcountry culinary innovations I have never had any issues with food sticking or burning (aside from issues resulting as a result of my own negligence). Adding a bit of extra water helps reduce any issues of burning or sticking, as does being conscious of how hot the stove is burning. I’ve used this kettle primarily with a canister stove (Primus Micron, an MSR Pocket Rocket, or similar) but also with a liquid fuel stove during winter trips. When using a canister stove, a small fuel canister can easily be stored inside which saves spaces in your pack.  Its squat design seems to allow for a fair degree of stability on any stove, especially when compared to taller pots that I’ve seen my backcountry companions use. In my years of experience I’ve only managed to knock it over twice and both times were completely my fault.

Fuel Canister Inside MSR Titan Pot.jpg

While my recommendation for this product is unequivocally enthusiastic, there are a few common sense items worth pointing out that for the most part will apply to all similar pots. One is that the handles for the pot do tend to get very hot when cooking, especially if wind is whipping the flame around. I keep a small piece of a bandana around to use to protect my fingers when picking up the handles (I just fold it a few times and use it as a barrier) and this also double as a napkin. 

A second comment is that there is minimal insulation provided to the contents by the titanium. Water boils quickly and food can be prepared rapidly (such as pasta, which tends to beat the “suggested cooking time” by a few minutes), but in cooler temperatures the meal in the kettle loses its warmth without much delay – especially noticeable if the temperature is below freezing. Generally this hasn’t been a problem for me, as I inhale my food as soon as it’s at a marginally safe temperature – wise to do so, but if you’re the type that likes to eat a few bites, then stare at the clouds for a minute, then eat a few bites, then read a page or two of a book, you might be wishing you had a microwave with you to warm up the last half of the meal in colder weather. Keeping the lid on and wrapping the kettle and remaining food up in a scarf or piece of clothing can help retain the warmth but I’ve rarely had to use this tactic. 

Cooking in the MSR Titanium Kettle.jpg

Lastly, there is no nonstick coating on this kettle, which is nice because it means you don’t have to worry about your fork scraping a coating off, but it does mean that if you burn some food in the bottom it will take some soaking, scraping, and scrubbing (best done at home) to remove it.

I tend to be fairly loyal to my backpacking gear and this is one item that has my unabashed devotion. The functionality, the durability, the purpose – any item that helps get food in my stomach automatically earns my affection – there are really no major flaws or drawbacks that I’ve noticed in almost a decade of use. This is one piece of gear that I feel like I’ve bonded with more than others, given the food and beverage related memories I’ve created with it. If I ever do end up replacing it, most likely with another MSR Titan Kettle, this one will be going up on the mantle to remind of the meals I’ve enjoyed in Montana’s mountains, Appalachian forests, and Atlantic beaches over the years.

The MSR Titan Kettle retails for $60. Find it here at REI, at, and on


While the potential exists to makes one's backcountry cooking setup nearly as complex as the average home kitchen, albeit hopefully a bit more miniaturized and lighter, in most cases the average lightweight backpacker only needs to boil water for freeze-dried dinners, freezer bag style cooking, to heat and hydrate a basic meal within the pot, or to heat water for things like coffee and tea. For these backpackers – like myself - the Evernew Ultralight Titanium Series have been a fairly popular option on the trail and have been my go-to choice for many trips over nearly the past decade.

Evernew 1.3 and .9 Liter Ultralight Titanium Pots Review.JPG

These 2 pots are from the Evernew's "All Purpose" lineup, which also includes a 600ml version (ECA251) not tested here. With a listed weight of just 4.6 ounces and 4.1 ounces for the 1300ml (model ECA 253 – measured weight: 4.9 ounces) and the smaller 900ml (model ECA252  - measured weight: 3.85 ounces) options at my disposal, respectively, these Evernew pots are really quite tough despite being so light. I've downright abused the 1.3 liter, including dry baking (not suggested), cooking in campfires, melting lots of snow for a group, and it’s even suffered a few impacts in the outside pocket of my pack from dropping it off ledges while traversing class 3 terrain.

Melting Snow - Evernew 1.3 with MSR WindPro 2.JPG

These pots are more short and squat than tall and thin, and as such catch more heat, heating faster and saving a bit of fuel and are more stable on top of a stove. On the downside, the shape doesn't really lend itself to an effective or satisfying combo for an all in one pot / mug solution (Such as something like the Snow Peak 700), although it would work if you're not too particular. The lids fit securely, and don’t seem to require constant re-bending of the pot every time you unpack it in an attempt to get things to line up like some other solutions I’ve used. At times I’ve used a large rubber band with a loop to loop to connection on the lid handle – this allows one to then wrap the rubber band all the way around the pot and lid for even more security in the pack (for example when trying to store too many things inside), but these days I don’t bother and the storing the pot in the outside mesh pocket of my ULA Circuit also helps to keep everything in place.

Backpacking Pizza , Melting Snow, Meal in the Pot and Cooking with Wood Fire with Evernew 1.3 Ultralight Titanium.JPG

The Evernew Ultralight Series is a great choice for a variety of average lightweight backpacking conditions and applications - although the pizza in the upper left was baked in the 1.3 liter proving it possible, the thin walls may not be best for more in-depth and advanced cooking techniques.

The handles (which fold for packing) along with the handle on the lid both feature heat insulating silicone material so you can take care of cooking without having to find that bandanna to use as a pot holder. A small pour spout is integrated to minimize spills and to ease water transfer, and measurement graduations can be found on the sides. Evernew also offers the non-stick versions of these as well, but in my experience it's not needed, adds a little weight, and the coating requires care both in your choice of utensils and in your cooking technique to keep from scratching it. 

Evernew Pot Measurements.JPG

3 sizes are offered - a .6 liter, a .9 liter, and the largest 1.3 liter version. The .9 liter has been a perfect size for me for either solo cooking in the pot or for two when heating water and rehydrating freeze-dried or freezer bag style meals is all that's required. I will step up to the larger 1.3 liter version when cooking in the pot for two, baking experiments, or when melting snow for water in the winter. I've used these with alcohol stoves and mostly in that case with a Trail Designs Sidewinder Ti-Tri, but most recently I’m usually using them with a canister stove and usually the Soto WindMaster. With this stove, I’m also able to fit a small MSR 110 gram fuel canister in either size, and I’m able to fit a larger 220 gram Snow Peak fuel canister in the 1.3 liter upside down while still being able to close the lid.

220 Gram Canister and Soto WindMaster Stove in Evernew 1.3 Liter Titanium Pot.JPG

While the thin, scorch-possible walls of the Evernew pots might not be the best choice for the gourmet backcountry chefs among us or for your next morning huevos rancheros experiment on the trail, if you mostly need to heat and boil water, melt snow, or cook the occasional basic pasta meal or beans and rice in the pot like me (low heat and keep stirring!) the Evernew Ultralight series of pots are hard to beat. Throw in a long handled spoon (the Toaks is my current choice) and optionally some type of mug for coffee (my pick: the Snow Peak 450 – single wall) and you're set. Although the Evernew Ultralight Pots are a bit on the pricey side, they're also light, effective, and durable – always a great combination for the outdoors.

The Evernew Ultralight Pots can at times be hard to track down, but you can usually find them in all 3 sizes for around $50-$70 depending on size here at


Wolves, Red Dogs, Grizzlies, & Outlaws

A tiny “red dog” – a fuzzy, reddish bison calf – was all but glued to its mother’s side as she fought off a half dozen wolves near Yellowstone’s Slough Creek. The mother had strayed from the herd, and wolves were attacking from all sides in an attempt to separate her from her baby. The stiff-legged little calf wheeled and turned with its mother as best it could, but the outcome seemed inevitable.

Herd of Bison Near Trailhead in Yellowstone.JPG

The standoff was visible to the naked eye, about two hundred yards off Route 212 on the park’s northern perimeter – an area sometimes called “North America’s Serengeti.” Two or three wolf-watchers had set up spotting telescopes at the turn-off to Slough Creek, and they invited my husband, John, and me to take a look. The scene was even more dramatic through a telescope. The calf would surely be killed and consumed, and probably soon by the look of things.

It turned out that the story’s outcome was anything but simple. And, in the end, the fate of the young bison was just one piece of a web of complex wildlife relationships that we encountered that day.

John and I are seasonal volunteers in Yellowstone, and we had decided to spend an October morning hiking a roughly five mile loop starting and ending at Slough Creek Campground. The small campground is located two miles down an unpaved road from Route 212, 25.8 miles east of Mammoth Hot Springs.

The wolves that surrounded the bison mother and baby belonged to the Junction Buttes, a pack that formed in the past few years and now claims this area as part of its territory. Wolves follow their prey; in Yellowstone, this most often means elk, but there can also be other targets such as bison calves, or even adult bison for certain packs.

Bighorn Sheep in Yellowston.JPG

Young wolves practice the skills they will need to successfully hunt. I recently watched four Junction Butte pups on a hill above Slough Creek, playing with elk antlers by tossing them in the air, tugging, and fighting over them. It was play all right, but it served as important skill-building and social bonding for these up-and-coming apex predators.

In addition to wolves and bison, the Slough Creek area is known for grizzly bears. Hikers in Yellowstone should check in advance for any recent warnings about grizzly activity or trail closures. It’s important to never hike alone, make a lot of noise, and have bear spray readily available and know how to use it.

Arriving at the Slough Creek Campground, John and I walked to the second creek-side campsite, and began the loop hike by sloshing across the creek – which varies seasonally from ankle to shin deep. Picking up easy-to-spot Buffalo Fork Trail on the far side of the crossing, we passed through a classic alpine meadow, then ascended several hundred feet on the rocky, narrow path.

Slough Creek Trail.JPG

We were both hyper-alert due to the possibility of grizzlies, particularly because it was autumn and Yellowstone’s bears are ravenously hungry as they pack on weight for hibernation.

Biologists believe that the park’s grizzlies have learned to follow wolves and attempt, often successfully, to feed at their kills. A bear at a carcass is frequently not the animal that made the kill, but rather an opportunistic scavenger. On the day that I watched the four Junction Butte pups at play, I was told that I had just missed a large grizzly that appeared about a hundred yards from the wolf pack. Perhaps the bear was following the pack, or was at least keeping track of its location.

As John and I hiked, we spotted bison, and here and there, mature, solo males that spend much of the year away from the herd. A nineteenth century writer called these cantankerous bulls “outlaws,” and gave some safety advice that’s still accurate today. Bison have difficulty seeing straight ahead, so stand to the side to make sure that the animal sees you. Keep your distance (the park requires a minimum of 25 yards), and be prepared to make detours. And remember, a raised, rigid tail signals that its owner is agitated.

At 1.7 miles from the campground, an open view to the right (east) encompasses an expanse of grassy hillside descending to a very large meadow marked by a distinctive rock “island” and Slough Creek’s meandering channels. On the far side of the meadow is a patrol cabin and the clearly visible Slough Creek Trail, which is an old wagon road. Braided routes lead down to the meadow and trail, but ankle to knee-deep or higher creek crossings are required depending on the season. Be sure to stay on an established boot or game trail to avoid doing damage to the habitat.

Beartooth-Absaroka Wilderness - Hiking Yellowstone.JPG

While descending the hillside and crossing the meadow, we gave several outlaw bison a wide berth and also kept our distance from a fresh-looking bone pile. Wildlife experts stress the importance of staying far away from any carcass or fresh bone pile to avoid having a dangerous encounter with a grizzly or disrupting the activities of wolves and other creatures.

It was easy to see why ungulates congregate in these lush grasslands, why their predators follow them here, and why other animal species thrive in this environment. I spotted a beaver lodge close to Slough Creek Trail, and began to understand that beavers must have played a major part in producing the wildlife-rich setting. On the bank of what appeared to be a beaver-created pool, a family of otters had left evidence of their approval of the setting. They had worn a deep, slippery slide in the mud; it was a good eight feet long and dropped straight into the pool of standing water.

Bald Eagle Fishing in Yellowston.JPG

Reaching Slough Creek Trail, a left (north) turn leads away from Slough Creek Campground, past the patrol cabin toward Silver Tip Ranch, a private lodge just north of the national park boundary. The lodge is permitted to transport supplies and visitors on the trail using horses and wagons.

To complete our loop and return to the campground, we turned right (south), and hiked through rocky, forested terrain to reach the trailhead and large wooden sign where you would normally begin a walk on the Slough Creek Trail. The distance from the patrol cabin to this trailhead is 1.8 miles.

Yellowstone Buffalo.JPG

From the Slough Creek Trailhead, John and I walked the remaining half mile to the campground and our vehicle. As we drove back to Route 212, the drama of the little red dog and its mother was on my mind, and we stopped at the highway turnoff to see if we could learn what happened. One of the morning’s “wolfers” was there, and she filled us in.

The news was startling. When last seen, the bison calf was still alive. After John and I left that morning, the wolves continued their coordinated –and seemingly unstoppable – attack for a time. Then, for unknown reasons, they backed off and vanished from the scene.

Maybe these wolves were young pack members practicing the hunt, learning how to “test” vulnerable prey and other skills. Or it could be that they tired of the standoff and the threat of injury by the mother. Perhaps these intelligent predators determined that the youngster could most likely be killed later. During Yellowstone’s harsh winter months, wolves grow hungrier, and many of their prey gradually weaken and are less able to fight off predators.

This calf was the youngest I’d ever seen at this time of year, born dangerously close to the arrival of harsh weather. Most calves arrive at the end of April or during May, a time that offers the best chance for their survival and for the survival of the herd itself. I assume that the red dog’s late birth was a simple accident of nature. I asked a naturalist friend what chance it had of surviving the winter – “Hardly any,” he answered. On the other hand, the little guy had already defied the odds and made it through the day.

Yellowstone National Park - Hiking Past Pond.JPG

Information: There are no peaks to bag or brag-worthy river fords on this route. But what could be better than a beautiful, reasonably short Yellowstone loop hike with the possibility of spotting a variety of wildlife? No crowds. No hard-to-get-to trailhead. And, with enough caution, this would make a great family adventure with kids who are experienced hikers. Bring bear spray, separate shoes for water crossings if you don’t want to hike in wet boots, and a good map and compass. Basic route finding skills are helpful. You can also hike the loop in reverse from the direction that I describe, but this could make route-finding in the loop’s middle section more difficult. Instead of the loop hike, you have the option of an easy in-and-out walk of any distance (with no water crossings) by starting at the Slough Creek Trailhead described above. Check the Yellowstone National Park website for complete information concerning roads, campgrounds, wildlife, and park alerts.

Best Time to Go & Getting There: Slough Creek Campground is located two miles down an unpaved road from Route 212, 25.8 miles east of Mammoth Hot Springs.The two mile-road from the Route 212 turnoff to the loop trail is open from late spring until early November. During this roughly five-month period, the loop can be completed unless the water level is high. Fall is probably the best choice because the stream crossings offer lower water levels, but again, be extra alert for grizzlies. If you’re interested in camping, Slough Creek Campground is open for camping from mid-June until early October on a first come-first served basis. The campground was threatened but not destroyed by fire in 2016.

Maps and Books: Yellowstone National Park, Trails Illustrated Map. The Hiking in Yellowstone and Best Easy Day Hikes in Yellowstone Falcon Guides are also available.


In the summer of 2009 I was sitting in a hotel room in Hirosaki, a small city in the far north of Japan’s main island of Honshu, eagerly anticipating my upcoming hike. It was to be the second big hike I’d ever gone on in Japan, and I was determined that unlike my first journey into this country’s wilderness, this one would be perfect. Unfortunately for me, though, neither of the two friends I was traveling with seemed particularly enthusiastic about hitting the trails, and we had yet to make the final decision as to whether or not we’d even be going out to the mountain.

Mt. Iwakie - Hiking Through Forest.JPG

The reason we had yet to decide was because, as I had recently discovered, I’m not always the best at planning a trip. This is also where my two as-yet-unconvinced hiking partners come in, because this hike was in fact only one small part of a larger trip I was on with my friends Dan and Brian. Dan was visiting Japan for a few weeks on vacation, and Brian and I were showing him around. Since I lived in the north of Japan and Brian lived in Tokyo, we’d agreed to split the planning of this trip between us into northern and southern portions.

For the southern leg of our trip, Brian had created a detailed spreadsheet of activities, including concerts, restaurants, shops, attractions, events to see, plans about reservations and tickets, and even scheduled down time. Along with that, he demonstrated a willingness to be flexible with regards to Dan’s interests and abilities. I, on the other hand, had little more than a bulleted checklist scribbled on a piece of paper.

Despite that, though, and in the face of numerous other difficulties involving transportation during one of Japan’s biggest and most travel-intensive holidays, we had arrived here in Hirosaki, near the base of Mt. Iwaki, and it seemed like the perfect place to go hiking if you needed to keep a flexible schedule. There’s a toll road that goes most of the way up the mountain, with buses that run along it every so often, and also a cable car from the parking lot at the end of the road that takes customers to within half an hour of reaching the peak.

In other words, if the object of the trip was to quickly get to the summit, enjoy the view, and get back to town, that could easily be accomplished. On the other hand, for someone more interested in an authentic hiking experience, there is also an old path starting at a Japanese shrine where you can trek up the mountain from its base. According to the internet, the estimated time from the start of this trail to the summit was about four hours.

Armed with these facts, I made my case for climbing the mountain to my two friends who were, it seemed to me, leaning towards just getting out of this place already. I argued that we could spend the full four hours climbing up from the base, then take the cable car down the other side and catch a bus back into Hirosaki. This would both save us some time and give us the chance to see all that the mountain had to offer. I would have liked to take the trail both ways myself, seasoned hiker with one whole mountain’s worth of experience that I was, but I knew my friends probably wouldn’t go for it.

Somehow I managed to convince them that this would be a good idea, and then it was merely a matter of coordinating how we would get to and from the mountain, which was about an hour outside the city. I found out when the last cable car ride would be, and we based the time we would need to arrive by off of that. Remembering the rain and mud from my last hike, I was also quite sure to check the weather repeatedly, but the forecast was for a nice, sunny day. It looked like everything was good to go.

Looks, however, can be deceiving, and by the time this hike was over I’d be wondering whether I should ever be allowed to plan anything ever again. To begin with, we were not well prepared. Nobody had hiking gear of any kind except for Brian, who’d thought to bring along a backpack that we used to store a few bottles of water. Also, there was the issue of finding the trail that we hadn’t considered. Since there’s a perfectly accessible parking lot and cable car on the other side of the mountain, not many people walk the path from the shrine anymore, leaving it a thin, overgrown thing that was a real challenge to locate at times, especially at the beginning.

Iwaki Shrine in Japan.JPG

Fortunately, we could ask for directions at the shrine, and as we started on our way we discovered an old signpost that told us how far we had to go in both distance and time. Once again the time estimate was about four hours, and we wasted no time beginning our ascent. Or at least, we soon began fighting our way through the woods. The first part of the trail was so thick with vegetation that it was difficult to go forward. Also, a lot of the greenery had grown up over the top of the path, making it nearly impossible to stand up straight. So we all hunched forward, stumbling along a thin path through the woods with what we all hoped was the trail turning to mud at our feet.

At first I wasn’t sure why there was any mud involved at all, since the forecast had been so promising, but we soon found that the path involved crossing over a small stream before starting up the mountain in earnest. We also discovered another error in planning on my part, because though I had checked the weather, I hadn’t paid attention to the temperature. Yes, it was the middle of summer, and I knew it would be fairly hot, but Aomori is located pretty far up north and the weather had been mild for the past few days. How bad could it be?

As it turns out, it could be very bad indeed. It got so bad, in fact, that within half an hour of starting up the trail I was already drenched in sweat. I felt miserably hot, my clothes had been reduced to a soggy, clinging mess, and I was stumbling along through the mud unable to even stand up straight. Besides all that, I had only the most vague assurance that the path we were following was actually the correct way up the mountain. All I could count on was that the plants were so thick everywhere else that this seemed like the only viable option. When we got to an area where things finally cleared up a bit and everyone could stretch out and rehydrate, thanks to Brian and his carrying that water, we were nearly on the point of turning around and putting an end to this once and for all.

Two things stopped us. First was the thought of having to walk all the way back through the area we’d just gotten out of. Second was the signpost that we discovered collapsed nearby. Like the first post, this one included an estimate of how much further we would have to go in order to reach the summit, and despite our having only been on the trail for half an hour, it clearly said we were now only three hours from the top. This was extremely encouraging, since it meant we were moving about twice as fast as the estimates had indicated that we would.

Still feeling pretty miserable, but emboldened and not wanting to retread the terrible section of trail we’d just staggered through, we continued on our way. Every now and then we’d pass another fallen signpost, and joke about the strength of our long foreign legs. After all, we were practically flying up the mountain, and the path itself seemed to reflect our newfound sense of confidence. Vegetation became sparse and less intrusive. Once or twice, we could actually look back out over the trail we’d covered and get a sense of how far we’d come. This was turning into quite a pleasant hike.

After we’d been on the trail for about two hours, though, we began to get tired. A nonstop uphill climb does take its toll after a while, and some parts of the trail were very steep. Still, we reasoned that by now we must be closing in on the summit, and since we’d caught sight of a couple of hikers coming down the trail in the opposite direction, we decided to wait and ask if we were anywhere close to the summit.

Side of Iwaki.JPG

One of the two hikers looked at us like we were crazy and said we were a good two hours or so from the top, while the other jokingly answered that yes, we could just go straight for another five minutes and take a left. Confused by this advice, we decided to simply continue on, hoping for the best but aware that we may in fact still have a long way to go. What we were close to, it turned out, was the mountain hut, which in this case was just a small, unmanned rest house. There we looked over the maps and signposts on display and, much to our chagrin, found that we had only traveled a little more than half the distance to the summit. So much for those long foreigner legs of ours. Apparently we were in for a four-hour climb after all.

This was of course dispiriting, but I didn’t let myself feel too down about it. If it hadn’t been for that earlier mistake, we might never have made it this far. And now that we were this far, things only seemed to be improving. The increase in elevation had tempered the heat, the trail was now clearly marked and well-traveled, and we’d reached a natural water source where we could rest and replenish our supplies before moving on. It was as if the higher up the mountain we got, the better everything else was getting too.

This even seemed to include the scenery. Up until now, we’d mostly been looking at small shrubs and tree roots while watching out for overhead branches and focusing on the trail. Now we’d reached the point where the trees had mostly stopped growing, so when we looked around we could see lots of deep green grasses, rich mineral hues in the rock faces, and an expanse of forested areas and farms below.

Ascending While Hiking in Japan's Mount Iwaki.JPG

There were also long, thin clearings with houses and shops clustered around the barely-visible lines of roads beneath us, faint signs of modern life in an otherwise green landscape. Before long, clouds began blowing past us on the mountain as well, many of them below us now, obscuring the path we’d been climbing and covering our surroundings with a bright sheen. It made it feel as if we were walking along at the top of a world untouched, still wet and fresh and new.

Then, as we got to within half an hour of the summit, just before our path merged with the one leading up from the cable car, there was a brief flattening of the mountainside, revealing a peaceful pool of water surrounded by green grass and wreathed in mist. There was a kind of serenity to the place, emphasized by the feel of the now-cool mountain air on my skin, the fresh alpine scent, and the pervading sense of natural isolation. It was a stirring sight, one that would almost have made all the trouble we’d had at the beginning of the climb worth it in and of itself.

Close to Mt. Iwaki Summit.JPG

All three of us took our time admiring this sudden transformation of the landscape, until finally we had to move on. Then the path led us to a change just as abrupt as when that pool had come into view as soon as we’d gotten over the next rise. We’d reached the final section of the hike, where the path grew crowded with people who’d taken the easy option and the entire area grew rocky. Despite the sudden presence of these crowds, though, by the time we reached the summit, it felt magical. There was something almost visceral to the feeling that I was now standing on a giant piece of rock thrust up above the clouds, surrounded by both friends and strangers alike.

After four hours of almost constant climbing I was thoroughly exhausted, but also immensely satisfied. The scenery had been amazing, and the act of actually climbing the whole way made me feel both accomplished and like I’d had a much deeper experience with the mountain. The hike itself had almost perfectly mirrored my feelings about it, starting out difficult and conflicted, and constantly improving as we went along until finally culminating in triumph. Still, I was glad that we planned on taking the bus back into town.

Hiking Mount Iwaki in Japan.JPG

My friends seemed to have had a similar reaction to my own. There had been a number of moments when we had seriously questioned hiking the mountain at all, not to mention tackling it the way we had, but everyone was happy we’d decided to do this in the end. So, feeling both tired and proud, we all climbed into one of the last cable cars and descended to the parking lot nearby where we planned to catch a bus. And that’s when we discovered that the last bus had, in fact, left hours ago.

This is not the kind of problem one expects to encounter at the end of a hike, nor is it an entirely welcome one to deal with when you’re exhausted. Since we’d gotten off the lift so late, we were now pretty much the only people left on the mountain. The sun would be setting soon, and even if we did manage to get a ride down to the edge of the toll road, we were still at least 45 minutes outside Hirosaki, where our hotel was. To top it all off, after all our efforts to cool down when we were at the base of the mountain, here at the summit it was quite chilly. Once again, I’d failed to plan appropriately, and we were all essentially stranded.

Fortunately, I had made sure to get the number of the local taxi company the previous day, and I had a working cell phone signal, so I was able to call and have them send a car. It was to be the most expensive cab ride of my life. But even with everything that went wrong, still more had ended up going right. Somehow, we’d all managed to have a great time out on this crazy hike, and that made me feel like maybe it would be worth planning more trips like it in the future.

Information: Mt Iwaki (岩木山) stands as the highest peak in Aomori prefecture with an elevation of 1,625 meters (5,331 feet). It is also sometimes referred to as “Tsugaru Fuji” because of its conical shape and its location in the Tsugaru region of Aomori. An inactive volcano, its last eruption was on March 23, 1863. No permits are required to hike it, and the toll road leading to a chair lift on one side of the mountain makes it a relatively accessible climb if you’re in the area. (in Japanese) The website can be browsed for the timetable of the bus that runs to the Mt. Iwaki Shrine and Dake Onsen. It also includes the relevant times for the Skyline Shuttle bus in blue. The table on the left with pink headers includes times going to the mountain while the table on the right with blue headers has the times heading back to Hirosaki station. Times listed in red do not run on weekends or holidays.

Best Time to Go: Mt. Iwaki is most safely ascended between early June and late October. During the winter there is an avalanche risk near the summit, and there can be quite a lot of snow on the mountain until after the rainy season. My recommendation would be to climb it in late June or early July as that will also be your best chance at seeing a unique variety of primrose (known as the Michinoku- or Iwaki-Kozakura) near the 9th station (located at the top of the chairlift).

Getting There: For the shuttle to the chairlift, catch a bus going to Karekidai (枯木平) from stop number 6 outside Hirosaki station. Get off at Dake Onsen (岳温泉) and transfer to the Skyline Shuttle Bus (スカイラインシャトルバス) heading for the 8th station (八合目). The chairlift will then take you to the 9th station where you can easily hike to the summit. Note that the Skyline Shuttle Bus is not in operation from mid-November to mid-May. For the full hike, take the same bus from Hirosaki station but get off at the stop for the Mt. Iwaki Shrine (Iwakisanjinjamae [岩木山神社前]) instead.

Maps: A map from the official website can be found here.

Books: While there aren’t any books specifically about Mt. Iwaki, it is one of the 100 famous mountains of Japan, which were originally chosen by the author Kyuya Fukada in his book of the same name, a translation of which is now finally available in English here on Amazon.


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