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Blogs

The Gift of Winter: A Reflection on a Season

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. Ge

Mark

Mark

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. 

Aaron

Aaron

Marmot Plasma 30 Sleeping Bag Review

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 sprin

Mark

Mark

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

Aaron

Aaron

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. 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 i

Mark

Mark

Evernew Ultralight Titanium Review: 1.3 and .9 Liter Pots

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 op

Aaron

Aaron

Hiking the Slough Creek-Buffalo Fork Loop in Yellowstone National Park

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. The standoff was visible to the naked eye

Barbara

Barbara

Hiking Mount Iwaki & the Importance of Proper Planning

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

MattS

MattS

BearVault BV450 Food Canister and REI Gift Card Giveaway

Note: This giveaway ended 10/31/16. For fall, we're giving away a new BearVault BV450 food canister filled with a $50 Gift Certificate to REI and a choice of shirt or hat from the TrailGroove Store! Check out our full BV450 review in Issue 30 for more info on the BearVault, and 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. Full details below. Photo credit Mark Wetherington How to Ent

Aaron

Aaron

Rugged and Remote: Backpacking the Ferris Mountains WSA

For years and usually while driving to go hike or visit some other place, a small mountain range in southern Wyoming had always caught my eye from a remote stretch of highway in south-central Wyoming – a range that sharply rises up above the dry sagebrush plains in a place nearly without a name. The consistently jaw-dropping views of these obscure peaks from north of the range and a unique row of limestone fins on the south side of the range led to further research, and I eventually learned that

Aaron

Aaron

Altra Lone Peak 3.0 Initial Review

Hiking and running in the various models of the Lone Peak trail running shoe from Altra for the past few years and across several different versions I’ve become well acquainted with the nuances of each model, and after a short but rugged trip to the Ferris Mountains of Wyoming early this past summer I did find one thing on the 2.5 model I’d like more of: support. On that trip while consistently side-hilling with a pack my foot slid around side to side more than I’d like, and even resulted in a b

Aaron

Aaron

A Backpacker, a Wolf, and Wilderness: Labor Day Weekend in Boulder Canyon

There’s something puzzling but incredibly satisfying about arriving at an empty trailhead on a sunny Saturday morning during Labor Day weekend. While some national parks are setting records for visitation and crowded campgrounds and packed trails are the norm, I had an entire canyon in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness of Montana to myself for 24 hours. Ten miles of well-maintained trail passed through lovely coniferous forest and beside a delightful waterfall to reach four subalpine lakes. This

Mark

Mark

Thru-Hiking: The Junior Version

Recent books and movies have inspired countless hikers and potential hikers to dream about thru-hiking one of the “big three” of America’s long trails: The Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, or the Continental Divide Trail. However, most people that attempt the feat drop off the trail before completion. A six-month commitment to a hike can become just too difficult. Countless others don’t even try; it’s just too much time away from family and the lives they’ve built. Completing all three tr

JimR

JimR

Hiking Mount Kumotori, Japan (in the Rain and Mud)

The trail before me had become a treacherous, muddy mess. My backpack felt like a sodden weight pulling me down, and my shoes squished and oozed water with every step. I was looking down at what would have been a sharp descent, now transformed into a muddy slide. As I debated between simply sitting down on the trail and letting gravity carry me along or staggering forward and attempting to remain upright, I thought again about how I had let this happen. The answer involved a series of

MattS

MattS

ZPacks Multi-Pack and REI Gift Card Giveaway

Note: This giveaway ended 7/12/16. For summer, we're giving away a new ZPacks 4-in-1 MultiPack filled with a $50 Gift Certificate to REI and a choice of shirt or hat from the TrailGroove Store! If you're not familiar with this versatile storage solution from ZPacks check out our Multi-Pack Review from back in Issue 17 for all the details - I personally use one as a ~3 ounce solution to keep my camera easily accessible (in chest pack mode) on every hike. Just make sure you're subscribed

Aaron

Aaron

Altra Lone Peak 2.5 Review

After a quick first look and comparison to the previous model here, and with the updated Altra Lone Peak 3.0 on the horizon, I’ve now been doing everything outside from hiking to backpacking to running in the Lone Peak 2.5 trail running shoe for a nearly a year and wanted to share what I’ve experienced with this version of the popular Lone Peak trail running shoe from zero-drop shoe manufacturer Altra.  Although initially undecided on the fit of the 2.5 compared to the 2.0, I’ve grown

Aaron

Aaron

Backpacking in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness

Earth Day was a perfect day, in regards to both weather and spirit, to embark on my first backpacking trip of the year. The destination, the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, seemed particularly fitting as well as a bit daunting. Covering over 2.3 million acres, this area is one of the wildest places in the Lower 48. With the high country still covered in snow, I would limit my hiking on this trip to a mere five miles on the Lower Salmon River Trail and a short way up the Horse Creek T

Mark

Mark

REI e-Gift Card & TrailGroove Giveaway

Note: This giveaway ended 5/16/16. This month enter to win a $100 REI e-Gift Card plus your choice of a shirt or hat from the TrailGroove Store! 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. Full details below. How to Enter 1) Like this blog entry in the lower right hand corner of this post. Simply login with your TrailGroove account and like this blog entry in the lower right hand corner

Aaron

Aaron

GooseFeet Gear Down Socks Review

The down socks offered by GooseFeet Gear are essentially a max warmth at a minimum weight solution for keeping your feet warm at night – or in and around your campsite with optional overboots. Each pair of the socks / booties are made to order with your choice of lightweight fabrics and colors both inside and out, choice on the amount of down fill (850 fill power water-resistant down is used), and of course the size. Zpacks also offers the socks without a fabric or color choice. Simple elastic s

Aaron

Aaron

Overnight Ski to Section House at Boreas Pass, Colorado

They say fire warms the soul, better yet when that fire is in a potbelly stove set inside a historic cabin atop the spine of the continent burning wood you didn’t have to chop! Rachel and I decided to celebrate my 31st birthday and our recent move to Colorado by booking an overnight stay at one of the over 30 backcountry huts for rent in Colorado through the 10th Mountain Hut Association and the above scenario is exactly what we found. Based on some advice from fellow TrailGroove writer @PaulMag

HikerBox

HikerBox

Gossamer Gear Gorilla Backpack - a 3,000 Mile Review

Gossamer Gear has been refining their ultralight oriented backpacks since 1998, including multiple iterations of the Gorilla – their medium volume framed pack. The newest version was released in early 2015 using gray Robic fabric instead of the white Dyneema Grid fabric as seen on older packs. The shoulder straps are now unisex, more contoured, thicker,and slightly narrower than the previous version. The hip belt was also redesigned to have more padding with a mesh inner face to wick sweat. Trek

HikerBox

HikerBox

Favorite Hiking Apps & Smartphones on the Trail

Although I resisted bringing technology in the backcountry for many years – whether that be a simple watch at one time to today’s smartphones - one trip that left me stranded on the side of the road for hours changed my mind. A simple call would have resulted in a quick ride, but on that day getting a ride after 5 days in the mountains resulted in a failure even with my best smile. My phone lay in the car back at the trailhead – on the other side of the Continental Divide, and that burger I'd be

Aaron

Aaron

Platypus GravityWorks Water Filter Giveaway

Note: This giveaway ended 2/22/16. With an eye on the upcoming arrival of spring next month, we're giving away a Platypus GravityWorks water filter system - similar to the system we reviewed here in Issue 25, just in the 2 liter reservoir kit version, plus your choice of shirt or hat from the TrailGroove Store. The GravityWorks filtration kit is an easy to use .2 micron water filter system that we've found to be well designed and easy to use, and it's a great choice for anything from a day

Aaron

Aaron

  • Blog Entries

    • Mark
      By Mark in TrailGroove Blog 0
      When I became intrigued by the trout swimming in mountain lakes in the Northern Rockies, I realized the tenkara rod gathering dust in my gear room would be a great way to test the waters before outfitting myself with a full fly rod and reel set up. Tenkara is a Japanese method of fly fishing that focuses on simplicity and forgoes a reel in favor of a longer rod length, fixed amount of line, and uses as few fly patterns as possible. Presentation, mindful casting, and technique are emphasized more than trying to “equip” your way into catching more fish.

      I’d used a tenkara rod in Kentucky with limited success, but it wasn’t until my second summer in Montana that I took it out onto the rivers, streams, and lakes in the Bitterroot Mountains and other ranges. I enjoy fly fishing, but almost exclusively as a supplementary activity to backpacking and not as my main motivation for getting outdoors. Fortunately, there is an incredible amount of overlap between amazing mountain scenery and fishable bodies of water. I’ve even noticed myself getting less interested in visiting lakes without fish and prioritizing camping at lakes with rumors of large trout.
      At first, I just used the tenkara set up that I had because it was what I had on hand and there was no additional investment required. Plus, since I’d used it in Kentucky, I was familiar with basic casting so I didn’t need to learn any new skills – I just brushed up on my knots and bought the flies appropriate for the season and places I’d be fishing. I thought that after learning more about fishing the lakes (I almost exclusively fish lakes) I’d likely acquire a traditional fly rod with a reel and transition to using that.
      However, after several short summers – fishing season in the high country is all too brief in Montana, with many lakes only ice-free from late June to early October – of catching a variety of trout on dozens of lakes, it seems that tenkara is all I need to have a great time. Its minimal weight (even with extra tippet, box of flies, clippers, and extra line my set up is less than 6 oz) and compact size (the rod I use collapses to 15 inches) are in a class of their own and absolutely perfect for weight-conscious backpackers.

      The ability to quickly get a fly on the water is also something that cannot be emphasized enough, as I’m able to be casting within less than a minute of getting to a lake. When fishing with friends using traditional fly rods, I’ve often caught two or three fish by the time they’re making their first cast. The ability to efficiently pack up and move on is also a benefit, especially when fishing multiple lakes in the same day.
      There are trade-offs when using a tenkara rod, like limited casting distance and inefficiency in fishing subsurface. Tenkara rods are designed to fish dry flies, but friends of mine have had some success using nymphs. For lakes where the fish are not actively feeding on the surface, this can be a point of frustration. However, in friendly “rod to rod” competitions with friends where I’ve used a tenkara rod and they’ve used a traditional fly fishing setup the results have been so similar that it appears that any advantage lies solely with the fly chosen and the skills of the angler.
      On the topic of angling skills, I must admit that mine are certainly in the novice-to-intermediate range. With so many outdoor hobbies, I’ve never dedicated the time to becoming a technically proficient angler. Fortunately, because of the intuitive nature of tenkara and minimal gear to manage, that hasn’t stopped me from catching some impressive trout or dozens in a single afternoon during prime conditions. Tenkara is also a less-intimidating way of fishing when sharing it with others. I’ve had friends who never cast a rod in their life catch small trout within a few minutes.

      Even if the fish aren’t biting, there is some solace that you’re not hauling around an extra pound or two of gear for no reason. Although they’re light, I’ve found the tenkrara rods to be rather durable. I typically don’t bring the rod case and instead just tuck them into a side pocket of my pack and cinch them tight with the straps. Even when in some thick bushwhacking, I haven’t lost or damaged a rod yet. My original rod is a decade old at this point and still casts great. I purchased a second rod last summer to have on hand for guests and to share some of the wear with my other rod. I’m hoping it should last at least a decade as well.

      If you’re interested at all in fishing mountain lakes, tenkara is a great way to ease into the activity. A complete set up can generally be had for under $200, and much less than that if you’re willing to shop around. When compared to the other expenses related to getting equipped for backpacking, it’s not a bad deal for something that can bring you hours of entertainment on each trip and quite possibly provide you with a meal as well.
      If you're ready to try tenkara, you'll want to get a rod that is appropriate for the types of waters you fish and the size of the fish you'll typically be catching. I've found rods in the 10 to 11 foot range to be ideal for the mountain lakes I fish and still reasonably maneuverable for streams and small rivers. Others might advise longer rods, especially if the lakes you're fishing tend to have larger trout (lucky you!). The topics of rod length, line length, tippet strength, and fly choices are much too broad for the scope of this article which is intended to serve more as inspiration than as a shopping list. That said, I've had success on mountain lakes in the Northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest using a 10 ft. 10in. rod, 11 or 13 feet of line, and 5-7 feet of 5X tippet. There are several different "beginner" kits by a variety of manufacturers selling tenkara-style rods that contain similar equipment and are a great place to start – you can find plenty of tenkara gear online and Amazon has a wide selection. But perhaps one of the most important things to remember when fly fishing in the tenkara style is that it is less about the gear and much more about the experience, the technique, and the interaction with the landscape.
    • Aaron
      By Aaron in TrailGroove Blog 7
      While many methods for backcountry water treatment exist, hollow fiber filters are quite popular due to their ease of use, effectiveness, reasonable cost, and longevity. While a hollow fiber filter is quite simple – with the filter itself having no moving parts and working through a multitude of hollow tubes (each hollow tube then having a multitude of microscopic pores, which actually filter the water) the filter element will still need to be maintained and some basic precautions should be exercised to maximize the lifespan of the hollow fiber filter.

      Drops:
      Every hollow fiber filter I’ve ever used has had precautions about dropping the filter – and although most have the actual element protected within a plastic housing, care should still be exercised. At home, store the filter on a low shelf or otherwise in some place where a drop would not be possible. On the trail, ensure that the filter is properly secured and stored. While I prefer to always keep my filter in an outside pocket of my pack for quick access during the day, we also need to make sure it can’t fall out easily if you happen to jump across a small creek. Water filters are one of those gear items where you can’t really tell if it’s working or not – if it’s working water comes out…just like if the element was compromised. Thus, I like to always look for a filter that comes with a manufacturer-approved integrity test that can be performed in the field – like the Platypus GravityWorks.

      Freezing:
      Just like drops, hollow fiber filters can’t be frozen if they’ve been used, as any water inside the tubes (which can never really be completely dried) could when freezing expand and fracture the element. This is a constant issue in mountain environments when it can freeze any night of the year. As such, when there is absolutely any chance of freezing I filter all the water I’ll need for the night, then disconnect the filter (if applicable to the system) and put the filter element in the foot of my sleeping bag at night in a Ziploc bag. If it’s still below freezing when you get up, you may then need to carry the element around in a pocket until it’s warm enough outside. Once the season gets cold enough where you’re carrying the element around all day or it never gets above freezing, it’s best to look towards a different water treatment method, of course.

      This pond, which was the best water around for miles in either direction, was full of algae and quickly slowed the flow rate of my hollow fiber filter. However, after a quick backflush the flow rate was easily restored.
      Backflushing:
      The flow rate for all hollow fiber filters will diminish over time and the dirtier the water, the faster this flow rate will fall. Luckily, hollow fiber filters can be rinsed or backflushed to help restore at least some of this flow rate, and this can usually be performed in the field. Look to the instructions specific for your exact system, but for gravity systems such as the aforementioned Platypus GravityWorks I currently use this simply involves filtering some water from the dirty bag into the clean bag, then raising the clean bag higher than the dirty bag, causing the clean water to flow back through the filter, taking dirt and debris along with it as it passes through. This dirty water can then be dumped on the ground. Other filters like the Katadyn BeFree can be cleaned by swishing the element in clean water. While backflushing will not make the filter perform quite as good as when it was brand new, keeping up with it and backflushing regularly can maintain acceptable performance for a surprisingly long amount of time. If you'll be backpacking where all of the water sources are questionable, you can also pre-filter your water with something like a bandanna to help extend the time you'll need between backflushes.

      Disinfection:
      After a trip, your hollow fiber will still retain some of that water you filtered along the way – whether that was questionable pond water or from a high mountain lake. Putting the filter right on the shelf could lead to all kinds of growth, be it algae, bacterial, mold, etc. Not only is this not appealing, but it can clog the filter over time as well as these types of growth are not easily cleared by backflushing. Unless you’ll be picking right up and heading out on another trip very shortly, it is best to disinfect the filter prior to putting it away in your gear stash. Once again, we’ll need to look to the specific instructions for your specific filtration unit to perform this task. However, most manufacturers suggest using household bleach diluted in water, then passing this solution through the filter.



      Make sure you’re using unscented normal liquid bleach for this task and diluting it as the manufacturer suggests. For example, with the Platypus GravityWorks, 2 drops of bleach in 1 liter of water is suggested. This can then be run through the filter to disinfect – and this solution will remain in the filter while it sits on the shelf to keep things fresh until your next trip. When that next trip comes along, I like the run a about half a liter of backcountry water through to clear out this solution. After a trip, I like to backflush first, then disinfect as a way to gauge what type of flow rate I can expect on my next trip – and to make sure it’s not time to order a new element. Hollow fiber filter elements aren’t exactly cheap either, and are usually the most expensive part of the system – with something like a replacement GravityWorks filtration element running about $55, I like to replace the cartridge only when I have to.

      By taking these few simple steps you can maximize your water filter investment and avoid having to replace the element more often than you need to. And by taking care of your filter, you might be surprised just how long a hollow fiber filter can continue to serve you season after season. Need more info on all the common different backcountry water treatment methods and what’s ideal for different scenarios? You can read our guide on backpacking water treatment methods here. Check out a full selection of backcountry water filters (including those that utilize hollow fiber filters as well as other technologies) here at REI.
    • Mark
      By Mark in TrailGroove Blog 3
      For the last several years, I’ve primarily backpacked in low-top trail runners with Brooks Cascadias and Altra Lone Peaks being the ones most often on my feet. I’ve used both waterproof and non-waterproof models and, after much experimentation, have pretty much decided that in three-season conditions non-waterproof works best for me in the terrain and conditions most common on my backpacking trips. While trail runners have been preferable to me for a variety of reasons – breathability and comfort being the foremost ones – I’ve found myself missing the ankle support provided by boots.
      Despite using trekking poles, I’ve had two sprained ankles within the last year while using trail runners. Past injuries are the primary contributing factors to this weak spot in my anatomy, but it seemed worthwhile to examine my footwear as well. Not wanting to go back to boots, but recognizing that maybe trail runners weren’t offering the support I needed, I decided to try out a pair of mid-height trail runners – the Altra Lone Peak 4 Mids.

      After having used Altra Lone Peak 4 trail runners for many of my backpacking trips since last year, I didn’t have any trouble adjusting to the zero-drop platform of the shoes. Hikers used to more traditional designs might want to ease into using zero-drop shoes, as sometimes issues can arise when doing too much too quickly after making the switch. I never had any noticeable issues when I made the switch years ago and have been happy with how my feet and body feel at the end of the day after hiking in Altras.
      The Lone Peak 4 Mids are, aside from the higher tops around the ankle, nearly identical to the Lone Peak 4 Lows. A wide toe box, gaiter trap for use with Altra specific gaiters, and ample cushioning are all features of each shoe. As someone with a rather generic foot shape I don’t necessarily need the wide toe box, but I have noticed that on longer-mileage days my feet do appreciate the extra room to spread out when compared to shoes with a narrower profile. I’ve yet to use the Altra specific gaiters on the low version of this shoe, instead just using gaiters I already own, and with the mid version I’ve not found gaiters to be necessary for most of the terrain I hike in since the higher upper portion keeps out enough debris, especially when wearing pants.

      Similar to most trail runners, these shoes were comfortable right out of the box and no “break in” period was required. My first trip with them was a 10-mile round trip overnight with a few miles of faint trail and bushwhacking and a steep climb through a burned area. These shoes felt just as comfortable on that trip as they did 100 miles later on another backpacking trip with significant cross-country travel. At 1 lb. 9 oz for the pair, these feel nearly as light as low trail runners while still offering a reasonable amount of ankle support at a fraction of the weight of traditional hiking boots. The boots have a 25mm stack height, and combined with an integrated rockplate I’ve found them to provide ample protection underfoot on rough trails. The sole provides good traction across the board with a fairly aggressive tread pattern. Although overall, I've been impressed by the durability of these shoes – especially given that a decent chunk of the mileage has been cross-country or on brushy trails – they do appear to have similar weaknesses as with trail runners in general. The toe cap on one of the shoes is beginning to peel slightly as I close in on 150 miles. However, the tread is still in great shape and most surprisingly no weak spots in the mesh have appeared.

      The only downside I’ve noticed about these shoes compared to traditional trail runners is that they are not as easy to slip on and off when taking breaks or exiting the tent in the middle of the night to, uh, admire the stars. Whereas with most low trail runners I can easily slip them on and off without undoing the laces, with these I have to undo the laces and loosen them to get my feet in and out. This isn’t a major point of contention for me, as I usually use camp shoes, but on trips where I forego them I do miss the convenience of being able to easily shed my footwear and just as easily slip it back on.

      As would be expected with a mesh shoe, the breathability is excellent. Even on a 16-mile day in Yellowstone National Park with a heavy pack in 80-degree temperatures, my often-unusually-sweaty feet didn’t get uncomfortably warm. The obvious counterpoint, of course, is that these shoes are not waterproof. Although Altra does offer RSM mid and RSM low versions of the Lone Peak with waterproofing in mind, since I’ve more or less phased out waterproof footwear and replaced it with breathable, quick-drying footwear this wasn’t a major adjustment or inconvenience for me. These shoes dried reasonably quickly in low-humidity conditions in the Northern Rockies after getting wet crossing creeks; no better or worse than other comparable trail runners.
      At $130 the Lone Peak 4 Mesh Mids are economically priced and, given the features and performance, I find them to be a remarkable value. If you’re looking for ankle support but don’t want the bulk of a traditional hiking boot, then the Lone Peak 4 Mids are a great option if you’re comfortable with zero-drop shoes or are interested in transitioning to them.
      The Altra Lone Peak 4 Mesh Mid Hiking Boots retail for $130. You can find them here at Amazon, at CampSaver.com, and here at REI.
    • Mark
      By Mark in TrailGroove Blog 1
      Although lacking wilderness status or the “brand name” recognition of Glacier National Park, the Beaverhead Mountains in western Montana are a remarkably scenic landscape with few crowds and plenty of lakes with trout in them. In other words, they contain all the prerequisites for a great backpacking trip. The Beaverhead Mountains, which are at the southern end of the Bitterroot Mountain Range, are also notorious for having millions of voracious mosquitoes which makes early season trips here a form of self-induced torture. Even on a trip in mid-August, there were noticeably more mosquitoes – which were irritating, but not trip-ruining – than on trips the same time of year in the Bitterroots, Glacier National Park, or areas of the North Cascades.

      I’ve heard anecdotal reports from other hikers, and seen official statements by public land managers, that the trails this summer are more crowded than ever. Wishing to avoid the crowds, I headed to a trailhead in the Beaverheads that I’d visited once before as part of a three night out-and-back trip half a decade ago. On that trip, which was in early September, there were no mosquitoes to contend with but I did have about 5 inches of snow fall on the first night which complicated things just a bit. I’d always been eager to return and figured that a weekday in mid-August was as good a time as any. The trailhead is just over a dozen miles outside of Jackson, Montana – population estimated at just over 100 people – and the final three miles are rough and require a 4WD vehicle with decent clearance.
      Lacking a vehicle capable of navigating the last few miles, I brought my mountain bike to ride to the trailhead since the road was fairly flat. Biking with a backpack is no fun, but I made it to the trailhead in about the same time it would’ve taken me to crawl along in a vehicle. On the way back I’m sure I made better time than most vehicles as the front suspension of the bike smoothed out the bumps and the downhill grade amplified each pedal stroke. The lack of an oil pan or other expensive undercarriage equipment to damage let me be a bit cavalier about avoiding obstacles that would have me white-knuckled if behind a wheel, plus the miniscule width of a bike compared to a truck allowed me to more easily choose the path of least resistance. The trailhead was as uncrowded as I’d expected, just a handful of trucks. Although the Continental Divide Trail runs through the Beaverheads, it sees surprisingly few other hikers. Distance from major population centers and somewhat limited access for passenger vehicles are major contributing factors. Some trails in the Beaverheads are also open to dirt bikes, which discourages hikers looking for a more pristine experience.

      The trail that I was taking for my overnight trip led to a stunning mountain lake just four miles from the trailhead with only around 800 feet of elevation gain. From that lake, which has brook trout, I would ascend cross-country another 500 feet to an unnamed upper lake which has a self-sustaining population of rainbow trout. I made it to the lower lake with plenty of time to fish before plodding uphill to where I planned to camp. While the fishing wasn’t record setting, it was a great way to take a somewhat active break and wading around in the cool water was refreshing after the biking and hiking. Once a few fish were caught, water consumed, and snacks eaten I cinched down my pack straps, grabbed my trekking poles, and began the zig-zag ascent to the upper lake.

      The views from the upper lake are nothing short of magical. The craggy mountains that hem in the lower lake seem to rise at eye level from a perfect low-impact tent site. Cliffs go down to the shore of the upper lake and two prominent peaks, one named and the other unnamed, rise above it. Several slabs of granite provide great places to cast into the waters and to stretch out and eat, read and relax. After some fishing, I worked up the courage to jump in from a small ledge five feet above the water despite the rapidly setting sun the chilly water of the lake, which sits at around 8,500 feet. I brewed a cup of tea before taking the plunge and appreciated the warm fluids to sip while I dried off.
      A mild thunderstorm rolled through during the night, but cleared out just before the sun came up. I’d studied up on the map before going to bed and had my sights set up on the unnamed summit above the lake. The path was relatively straightforward and, at least from the lake, no technical climbing seemed to be necessary to gain the summit. I fished my way around the lake with a few catches here and there before stashing my gear and heading for the top.

      I’d expected a mellow hike, and the actual route was even less demanding than I thought with views more incredible than I’d anticipated – always a good combination. Being able to see both lakes from one vantage point was particularly rewarding. After a break at the summit to soak up the scenery, I headed back down to the upper lake, then to the lower and out to the trailhead. I stopped to gather huckleberries and grouse whortleberries, which were still ripening up high while in the Bitterroots they were almost past their prime due to the lower elevation. The bike ride back to my car capped off yet another trip that featured solitude in the Montana wilderness. Riding downhill made for a faster trip out than the ride in and, as expected, there was no traffic to contend with.

      Information: Trails into the Beaverhead Mountains from Montana are accessed from the southwestern part of the state, with Jackson and Wisdom being the closest “towns” to the trailhead (only Wisdom has a gas station; Jackson has a commercial hot springs with lodging and a restaurant). Trail access is also available from Idaho, with those trails being in the Salmon-Challis National Forest.
      Hiking a section Continental Divide Trail is a great option if you can arrange a shuttle or don’t mind backtracking. Otherwise, just looking at a map and picking out a lake or lakes to hike to is a good way to explore the area. Cross-country travel in the Beaverheads is not prohibitively difficult for the most part, but as with any backcountry travel appropriate caution and research are necessary. This does allow for “shortcutting” from lake to lake or over ridges to create a route that connects trails that otherwise dead-end in adjacent drainages.
      There is no guidebook for the Beaverheads, but several great hikes are detailed in 100 Classic Hikes: Montana by Douglas Lorain and published by Mountaineers Books. For driving to trailheads, the Montana Benchmark Recreation Atlas can be utilized. Printing maps from Caltopo or similar is a great option as the map provided by the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest does not contain enough detail to be sufficient for backpacking.
    • Aaron
      By Aaron in TrailGroove Blog 2
      Since moving to the Lone Peak line as my 3 season hiking and backpacking shoe of choice in 2014, I’ve followed along as the shoe has matured across various versions as I’ve worn out each pair along the way. Now that it’s 2020, the latest version is all the way up to the 4.5 model that is quite different from very early versions of the Lone Peak, but very similar to more recent versions like the Lone Peak 4.0.

      In fact, the new Altra Lone Peak 4.5 is so similar that after wearing out my version 4 shoes, I immediately took the Lone Peak 4.5 on a 5 day, almost entirely offtrail (unless we’re counting elk trails) backpacking trip with no break in and without even trying them on before heading out the door. Normally, this isn’t suggested with a new shoe, but with my previous experience hiking in the Lone Peak and knowing I’m always a size 12.5 in Altra shoes, it turned out great. The shoe (so long as you get the right size) is immediately comfortable with plenty of space for the toes and the shoe is light (13 ounces per shoe measured in my size men’s 12.5), so it doesn’t weigh down your feet. The rockplate and moderate level of cushioning (25mm stack height) in the shoe is sufficient protection for your feet even offtrail with a 30lb pack, and the outsole offers sufficient traction in varied conditions. Like all Altra shoes the shoe has zero heel to toe drop.

      For backpacking, and while I normally do not take camp shoes no matter what, the Lone Peak is the only shoe I’ve ever worn that didn’t have me partially wishing for a camp shoe at the end of a long day. The shoes will also dry reasonably quickly after an accidental or intentional splash through a stream crossing due to the breathability built into the shoe, and the mesh that offers this breathability is pretty tough – and in fact has been holding up even after some talus travel where I did completely expect the shoes to rip or at least show significant signs of abrasion.

      With the Lone Peak 4.5 it’s just been more of the same that we’ve come to expect from the Lone Peak line – although with the most recent versions the “trail rudder” that Altra has used in the past has returned – which is just a small protrusion of the outsole beyond the heel of the shoe that is said to offer more control and traction on downhills. While I haven’t found this to make much of a difference on descents, it does seem like it adds an opportunity for the outsole to separate from the midsole at some point. Not that this has happened, but I do think with shoes sometimes simpler is better. I don’t use gaiters with low shoes, but if you do the Lone Peak has gaiter attachment points on the heel and toe of the shoe.

      Overall the Lone Peak 4.5 is unremarkably great – it’s just more of the same nice blend of light weight, decent durability, traction, protection, and comfort (even right out of the box) that we’ve come to expect from the continually refined Lone Peak lineup.
      A pair of Lone Peak 4.5 shoes retail for around $120, but can be found on sale. You can find them here at Amazon.com, at Backountry.com, and here at REI. For our review on the waterproof RSM version of the Lone Peak, see this magazine review. You can find my review of the waterproof mid-height boot here. Altra also has a mesh version of the Lone Peak in a mid-height boot (all of the last 3 models are currently on the 4.0 model) – you can check out the Lone Peak Mesh Mids here.



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