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Gear |Trips | Food | Technique | Reading

Entries in this blog

Best Canister Fuel for Backpacking Stoves

While the physical standardization of backpacking fuel canisters may lead one to believe they’re all the same, the actual contents of each canister vary greatly, and results in a multitude of liquefied fuel mixtures on the market. And if you’ve ever been in the situation – like I have – where you’re trying to boil water by the light of a headlamp on a chilly fall night only to watch the output of your stove steadily drop towards a heat level barely above off, you know it pays to know your stove

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

A Day Hiking Weekend in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

My childhood best friend moved to Akron, Ohio right after she graduated high school to attend the University of Akron. Being from Virginia and having lived there all my life, I had never really heard of the city aside from its connection to Lebron James (but even about this my knowledge was severely limited due to my lack of interest in basketball). That was seven years ago, and I realized recently that I still had yet to visit despite her open invitation. Feeling guilty and quite aware of how l

Grace Bowie

Grace Bowie in Trips

Mountain House Chicken Teriyaki Meal Review

While some meals may come and go from the backpacking freeze-dried meal repertoire, other meals stand the test of time and seem to find their way into your food bag many times over the years. Mountain House Chicken Teriyaki is one such meal that I’ve taken along on recent trips to trips pretty far back in the memory bank, and in Mountain House packaging from the latest all the way back to the old yellow and blue package. While perhaps not quite as exciting as newer meals to hit the market, somet

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Food

Backpacking Gear: Down vs. Synthetic Insulation

Before you begin to narrow down your choice of a sleeping bag or jacket for backpacking usage, there’s one key decision you must arrive at first: the choice of down vs. synthetic insulation. The source of much debate, both options have mostly pros and a few cons. In this post we’ll detail why you might choose one over the other and detail the performance of down and synthetic insulation across various backpacking situations. Down The lightest and most compressible option, down in

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Solarpad Pro Ultralight Solar Panel Review

Now having tested several solar panels over the years that are marketed towards outdoor use and use on the trail – most of these stay stashed in the back of my gear closet, and are more likely to be something I might use during a power outage at home rather than actually depend on out on the trail. For hiking and backpacking purposes most of these panels are too heavy, just don’t perform well enough, or have significant drawbacks like compatibility with one device, while not being compatible wit

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Good To-Go Chicken Pho Review

Many years ago, I was stuck at a cubicle all day under fluorescent lights in the corporate world. In such an environment one has to find small ways to make their days positive – getting your favorite morning coffee, a lunchtime stroll, or looking forward to that dedicated Friday lunch spot. One such eatery was a local restaurant that specialized in one thing: Vietnamese pho. Perfect on bitter winter days, the dish for me is a satisfying blend of a flavorful soup broth and noodles but with a heav

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Food

Backpacker's Pantry Rocky Mountain Scramble Review

While most breakfasts on the trail in my case are whatever gets me hiking the fastest – typically an energy bar or two and coffee – from time to time a more elaborate breakfast is called for. And of course, there’s always breakfast for dinner, which for me is the most likely time I’ll make such a breakfast meal. For this purpose I already have a couple go-to freeze dried backpacking breakfast meals including the Breakfast Skillet from Mountain House and their Spicy Southwest Style Skillet. Varie

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Food

Garmin InReach Mini: Battery Life with Basic Messaging

Although I’ve been a user of an InReach SE for years – which always met or exceeded my battery life expectations in the backcountry, when the InReach Mini was released – and despite its obvious advantages in the weight and size department over previous InReach devices, I had a few reservations in regards to a possible upgrade. While the weight and size factor would be a step up, custom messaging would be a downgrade – the InReach SE’s message composition already reminded me of text messaging on

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

NEMO Fillo Elite Backpacking Pillow Review

After setting up the tent on a recent trip and after a long day, I heard an unwelcome sound the moment I laid my head on the pillow – the sound of air leaking from the previously trusty pillow I’d been packing along on trips for years. Luckily, this trip was quite warm for the mountains – lows in the high 40s plus having a double walled tent along meant I had a down jacket that I wasn’t wearing at night, and could roll up in a stuff sack to get me through the trip. However, for more normal temps

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Firepot Spicy Pork Noodles Review

Ever since one of my favorite backpacking meals of all time – the Pad See You noodles from Backpacker’s Pantry was unfortunately discontinued, I’ve been a search for a simple, but good rice noodle dish with an accompanying meat protein. The Pad Thai from Mountain House is a recent meal that ends up being a close contender to my old time favorite, and the latest meal with this theme I’ve tested is the dehydrated Spicy Pork Noodles from Firepot, who makes pre-packaged, just add water dehydrated me

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Food

An Outlaws' Retreat: Hiking in Robbers Cave State Park

The forested slopes of southeastern Oklahoma’s ironically named Sans Bois Mountains provide the backdrop for much of the excitement in “True Grit,” a novel by Charles Portis and two major motion pictures (1969 and 2010). You wouldn’t know it though, for the mountain peaks shown in the films suggest places farther west. Indeed, the movies were filmed in Colorado and New Mexico, but pursuing outlaws in post-Civil War Indian Territory, as the main characters are portrayed as doing in “True Grit,” w

Susan Dragoo

Susan Dragoo in Trips

Firepot Chili con Carne with Rice Review

While many of us have settled on a routine of meals and old standby dinners in the backcountry – whether that’s commercial freeze dried meals or our own recipes on the trail, every once in a while it’s nice to mix it up. Recently when re-stocking the freeze dried meal inventory for some upcoming trips I noticed that REI was carrying a brand I hadn’t tried before – and I decided to test out the new Chili con Carne with Rice Meal made by Firepot in the United Kingdom. While trying new m

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Food

Backpacking the Lost Coast Trail: An Oceanside Wilderness

The Lost Coast Trail (LCT) in northern California may very well be the best beach hike in the United States. The name derives from the fact that it is the only part of the California coast that is not paralleled by a highway. I’m sure the romantic ring of that name only adds to its considerable popularity. It sounds like something from a teenage adventure novel. “The Hardy Boys and the Pirates of the Lost Coast” There is a northern section and a southern section. The southern stretch is muc

George Graybill

George Graybill in Trips

A Winter Refresher: Backpacking at Chief Joseph Pass

Although I did several trips on cross-country skis and snowshoes that involved camping out in the Northern Rockies in below freezing temperatures for multiple nights, the past few years my definition of “winter backpacking” has either included a US Forest Service rental cabin with a wood stove or a plane ticket to southern Arizona. I still find winter to be a beautiful time of year and I enjoy the heightened elements of the season that seem so magical, but I just hadn’t hadn’t been motivated to

Mark Wetherington

Mark Wetherington in Trips

Ancient Wanderings: Hiking in the Ventana Wilderness

I collect hidden places of refuge in the wilderness. At least once a year I retreat to one of these havens to renew my spirit. These spots have a few things in common: They are off trail, deep in the wilderness, difficult to get to, and a delightful surprise when first discovered. And, when I am there, being alone feels exactly right. Deep within one of California’s coastal mountain ranges in the Ventana Wilderness, one such location is a sandstone cave at the base of a large rock outcroppi

George Graybill

George Graybill in Trips

Feathered Friends Down Booties Review

Few items provide as much comfort for the weight during frigid backpacking trips as dedicated down booties. Cold feet can quickly sap out any enjoyment of wonderful winter scenery and can easily discourage someone from ever attempting winter backpacking or cross-country ski touring. While down jackets can easily keep your core warm, having a full-body strategy for keeping in heat is crucial for winter trips where you’re spending a significant amount of time in camp. Down booties provide a soluti

Mark Wetherington

Mark Wetherington in Gear

Hiking the Wailau Trail: Lost in a Hawaiian Jungle

I was muddied, bloodied, and soaked, but I had reached my goal. I was standing on the rim of Wailau Valley. Just beyond my toes, the land dropped away steeply to the valley floor 3,000 feet below. Waterfalls streamed down the cliffs that surrounded this lost world as it swept away before me to the north shore of Moloka’i. It was hard to believe that 50 years ago I had descended this cliff and then hacked my way through five miles of jungle to the ocean. I must have been crazy. I was definitely l

George Graybill

George Graybill in Trips

Subalpine Splendor: Hiking in the Bitterroot Mountains

With so many places to explore in Montana, it might seem a bit strange to visit the same place for a second time – much less a third time. But one lake in particular has drawn me back to it three times over the last few years. My first visit to this lake was coincidentally my first summer in Montana. My eagerness for mountain scenery led me to visiting it so early (late May) that even though it had been a mild winter, the lake was still frozen over and although the scenery was magical I wasn’t a

Mark Wetherington

Mark Wetherington in Trips

Petzl IKO CORE Rechargeable Headlamp Review

For whatever reason, headlamps have not been an item I’ve paid particular attention to during a decade of backpacking. I’m on my third or fourth headlamp, but whenever I’ve needed to replace one (lost, intermittent failure issues, decided to make it a spare to keep in the car, etc.) I’ve simply purchased whatever was most similar to the previous one. Bells and whistles were never that intriguing to me when it came to headlamps (although one of mine did have a whistle built into the plastic on th

Mark Wetherington

Mark Wetherington in Gear

Exploring an Ecosystem: Hiking a Greater Yellowstone Loop

The United States tends to protect its public lands in piecemeal fashion. Congress designates a single landform – a mountain range, coastline, or canyon – as a National Park or Wilderness area, but leaves the surrounding land open to settlement and industry. As a result, an ocean of development – towns, roads, mining claims, and logging operations – surrounds a few islands of protected space. Only a few ecosystems are protected in their entirety. One such ecosystem is the Greater Yellowston

Kevin DeVries

Kevin DeVries in Trips

From Mexico to Canada: Thru-Hiking the Route In Between

Hikers love maps. Maps are more than just navigational aids – they’re permission to let our imaginations run free. Maps inspire childlike wonder. We dream about what’s around the bend. I’ve spent years staring at a map of long-distance hiking trails in the United States. The Arizona Trail runs north-south through its home state, as does the Idaho Centennial Trail. Between the two, there’s a gap where no established trail exists. The gap is not for lack of scenic beauty, however. The state o

Kevin DeVries

Kevin DeVries in Trips

Backpacking Pillow Selection Guide and Overview

A good night of sleep is always important – but with the physical activity that goes along with backpacking, it becomes even more important on the trail. Getting a good rest after a long hiking day will only help things the next day – whether it’s the physical challenge of a high mileage day, or even a day that tests other things like your sharpness with navigational ability. Not to mention just our general mental outlook – being tired makes everything harder. With our at home pillow system (at

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

7 Ways to Make Freeze Dried Backpacking Meals Better

Even the best freeze dried backpacking meals that are out there tend to have some common drawbacks. The most common issue with ready to eat commercial meals is their lack of calories – with meals commonly containing calorie counts in the 400-500 range (or sometimes, even worse at 200-300 calories). Typically these meals will claim to feed 2 – when in fact they're pretty light on calories even for one person after a long hiking day, leaving us to dig through our food bag for anything we can find

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Technique

Solitude in the Sapphire Mountains of Montana

I’ve always placed a premium on solitude when planning my outdoor activities and, with some planning and luck, have never found it to be particularly difficult to obtain. However, with trails across the country being more crowded than ever this past summer, it’s taken a bit more effort even in sparsely populated western Montana to have that lake, peak, or meadow all to yourself. Fortunately, with a bit of flexibility and research I was able to turn a short-notice opportunity for an overnight tri

Mark Wetherington

Mark Wetherington in Trips

John Muir Trail Tips and Hiking Guide

Some years ago I was eating breakfast with my wife, Lyn, at the Vermillion Valley Resort when a group of unusual looking people sat down at an adjacent table. They were wiry and weather beaten and gave off a raised-by-wolves vibe. They proceeded to eat enormous platters of food, which they washed down with beer. They turned out to be thru hikers from the nearby John Muir Trail (JMT). After they told us a little about their trip, I said to my wife, “I want to do that! – or, at least, I want to lo

George Graybill

George Graybill in Trips

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